From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 31 - October 30, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Land trust proposes easement purchase

by Cat Urbigkit

The Green River Valley Land Trust is initiating a new fund-raising effort aimed at allowing the local non-profit to purchase a conservation easement on 630 acres of Dick Noble's property along the New Fork River.

The Nobles will continue to own and operate the ranch, as they have for five generations.

GRVLT staff member Luke Lynch explained in an interview Tuesday that so far, the trust holds conservation easements on 11 properties totally 7,000 acres. All the trust's conservation easements to were donated, not purchased, Lynch said. The trust holds conservation easements on lands owned by two board members.

GRVLT was founded in the summer of 2000, according to Lynch, by landowners involved in the New Fork Irrigation District. Jim Noble, Kip Alexander and Stan Murdock were looking for a way to keep lands in the valley involved in agricultural production, Lynch said, and the result was the local land trust.

The trust now has an office on Pine Street in Pinedale, three employees and an annual budget of $185,000. Serving on the trust's board of directors are Kip Alexander, Mary Anne Almquist, John Andrikopoulos, Tom Davenport, Liz David, Gary Espenscheid, Gerald Mason, John Mortenson, Stan Murdock, Mark Noble, Tucker Smith and Chris Sullivan.

The trust also has an advisory board consisting of: Shaun Andrikopoulos, James Baker, Robert Barnes, John Blatt, Pete Carney, Peter Flanigan, Josie George, Erivan Haub, JJ Healy, Don Kendall, Mary Lamy, Jim Noble, Felix Rohatyn, Dick Smith, Bill Sullivan, Sally Swift and Bob Thompson.

Lynch explained that the board of directors are in charge of decision-making for the organization and meet every two months, although committees of the board meet more frequently. Lynch said the advisory board membership is strictly honorary.

Throughout the interview, Lynch emphasized that the land trust is there to serve agricultural interests and is an agriculturally based organization.

"We just provide a service," Lynch said. "We're there for landowners who want to work with us."

Lynch said people have misperceptions about conservation easements, when in reality a conservation easement is a contract between a landowner and the land trust with a term of forever.

When asked how this perpetual term complied with the Wyoming Constitution's provision prohibiting perpetuities, Lynch said that it doesn't. He said that under common law, a trust document or contract must have a time for which it vests, and with a conservation easement, "it vests when it's signed: It's in place the minute it's signed.

"It's clear as black and white," Lynch said. "There's no gray area on that particular issue."

Lynch noted that placing land in conservation easements does devalue the property, which can ease the death tax burden on the landowner's heirs.

"You're reducing the value of your estate," he explained, while committing to the land staying open for agricultural use.

Lynch said the trust's conservation easements restrict subdivision of the land, but do frequently allow for homesites for family members. Agricultural improvements are allowed as well.

"We're not in the business of managing land ... our easements don't deal with that," Lynch said, adding that the easements are written to provide for flexibility in future agricultural operations.

The easements provide for trust representatives to set up a time convenient with the landowners on an annual basis to monitor the agreement. Annual field checks of existing easements have not revealed any compliance problems to date, Lynch said.

With the initiation of a pilot county-funded purchase of development rights program, originally proposed by the land trust, the number of conservation easements in the county is expected to increase. While the land trust may be the organization chosen by the landowner to hold the county-funded easement, Lynch said another role for the trust may be to assist landowners in preparing their applications for the county program.

For more information on the land trust, contact the organization's office at 307-367-7007.

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