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Salzburg v. Dowd Settlement Upholds Easement’s Permanence

After more than six years of litigation, a case involving a Wyoming county commissioners’ attempted termination of a perpetual conservation easement settled, with the conservation easement remaining in full force and effect. The attempt to terminate the conservation easement came at the request of the successor land owners. A local newspaper editor challenged.  The Wyoming Supreme Court dismissed the case for lack of standing in Hicks v. Dowd, 157 P.3d 914 (Wyo. 2007). The Wyoming Attorney General then filed suit, and the parties settled while motions for summary judgment were pending.

On February 17, 2010, the Fourth District Court of Wyoming entered a “Stipulated Judgment” incorporating the parties’ settlement agreement disposing of Salzburg v. Dowd.  The judgment briefly reviewed the history of the case and of coalbed methane development on the Ranch, which had triggered the attempt by the successor owners, Fred and Linda Dowd and the Johnson County, Wyoming Board of Commissioners to terminate the conservation easement.  

The settlement agreement ratified by the Court states that
1)    The County’s attempted termination of the conservation easement had no legal effect;
2)     The quitclaim deed by which the County attempted to convey the conservation easement to the Dowds was null and void and of no effect;
3)     That the quitclaim deed by which the County conveyed the easement and the trust to the Scenic Preserve Trust is in full force and effect as amended by the parties’ agreement and the court order.

This leaves the conservation easement and one-acre parcel (a necessity under Wyoming law at the time) held by the Board of County Commissioners of Johnson County as Trustees of the Scenic Preserve Trust.

In addition, the Stipulated Judgment ordered two amendments to the conservation easement.  The first amendment acknowledged that the easement could not affect the pre-existing rights of mineral owners and lessees (which is, of course, the law) and that the Dowds would have no liability on account of such pre-existing rights.  

The second amendment provided for assignment of the easement, subject to approval of the landowners, or by order of court.  The Dowds were also relieved of any responsibility to reimburse the County for costs incurred as a result of the original effort to terminate the easement (part of the Dowd’s original agreement made in exchange for the County’s promise to terminate the easement).

The settlement reinforces trust and confidence in conservation easements as a durable land protection tool and concludes nearly seven years of litigation resulting from the attempted termination of the Meadowood conservation easement.

More Information
For the pleadings in the Salzburg case, go to The Learning Center conservation defense clearinghouse and click on the easement termination collection.  

For more information see the following articles available at The Learning Center:

Could Coalbed Methane be the Death of Conservation Easements?, by Nancy A. McLaughlin, 29 Wyoming Lawyer 18 (2006).

Hicks v. Dowd: The End of Perpetuity?, by C. Timothy Lindstrom, 8 Wyoming Law Review 1 (2008).

In Defense of Conservation Easements: A Response to The End of Perpetuity, by Nancy A. McLaughlin & W. William Weeks, 9 Wyoming Law Review 1 (2009).

Conservation Easements, Common Sense and the Charitable Trust Doctrine, by C. Timothy Lindstrom, 9 Wyoming Law Review 2 (2009).  

Hicks v. Dowd, Conservation Easements and the Charitable Trust Doctrine: Setting the Record Straight by Nancy A. McLaughlin and W. William Weeks, 10 Wyoming Law Review 1 (2010).  

State, Landowners Negotiate in Easement Suit, Casper Star-Tribune, 9/25/09

Land Wars: Two Cases Shape Future of Land-Use in Wyoming, New West Development

Wyoming Star Tribune February 2010 article on Salzburg v. Dowd conservation easement termination case settlement.  County agrees to drop case

Conservation easement issue settled on Meadowood Ranch, Buffalo Bulletin, 2/24/10

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