SALT LAKE CITY – Utah’s new Bears Ears National Monument captures more than 100,000 acres of non-public land held in trust for public schools, and state leaders are asking President Barack Obama to promptly address the issue by making Utah’s school children whole through an exchange of comparable lands.
“Monument designations inevitably capture hundreds of thousands of acres of school trust lands, rendering them undevelopable instead of providing revenue to directly support K-12 education as Congress intended,” said Tim Donaldson, School Children’s Trust Director for the Utah State Board of Education, which is charged with oversight of the state’s efforts to generate revenue from school lands.
One year ago, the Utah State Board of Education passed a resolution regarding federal and school trust land policy, clarifying the need to adequately compensate Utah’s public schools in the event of a national monument designation. “If conservation designations are made, they must be done in a way that holds schools harmless financially,” said outgoing Utah State Board of Education member and new State Representative Jefferson Moss. “This may mean identifying lands of comparable value up front and providing for the costs of a land exchange.”
The Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), which manages the state’s trust land portfolio, reports more than 109,000 acres of trust lands are now captured within monument boundaries.
“Approximately 64 percent of our state is federal public land, while only six percent is trust land,” said SITLA Director David Ure. “Our president and our government must provide just and fair compensation to Utah’s education system for lands captured within this monument designation.”
Over the past 20 years, SITLA has generated $1.7 billion in revenue from Utah’s trust lands, helping to grow Utah’s Permanent School Fund to more than $2.1 billion. Interest and dividends from this Fund have provided $320 million to Utah schools over that same period.
President Bill Clinton’s unilateral action creating the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 led to a $50 million payment to the Permanent School Fund and a significant land exchange to protect Utah’s education endowment.
Upon statehood, the federal government granted trust lands and created permanent endowments to support state institutions, including public schools, and state hospitals and colleges.