State trust lands at a glance

 

Among publicly owned lands, state trust lands are an anomaly. Granted at statehood by the federal government, they run in patchwork patterns across the West, from the red Utah desert to the dense forests of Oregon. Their arrangement on the landscape is utterly arbitrary -- generally, two square-mile sections, numbered 16 and 36 in every township unit, were granted "for the support of common schools."

What's left of these relic lands varies by state, but their mandate as piggybanks for state services -- schools, prisons and other institutions -- endures. After Nevada and other states sold off most of their trust lands by the early 1900s, the federal government cracked down on newer states like Arizona and New Mexico, ordering them to manage those lands more strictly to fund schools.

Managed this way, state trust lands can seem more like private land than a public resource. Access for recreation or hunting is often limited, even prohibited, although some lands are leased by other agencies for that purpose. "Our litmus test (for management) is in large part dollars and cents," says Ryan Lance, director of Wyoming's Office of State Lands and Investments. "We are very careful not to label them as public lands."

Over the decades, trust lands have often been subject to intensive, revenue-driven management -- clear-cuts, gas wells and, more recently, strip malls and cul-de-sacs. States lease land to developers, logging companies and others, or sell it outright at public auction, to make money for beneficiaries. Some states sell conservation easements on trust lands, but managers often simply "dispose" of environmentally sensitive lands altogether by selling or transferring them to non-profits or park agencies, and acquiring other lands more suited for development.

Today, the West's growing and more urban population, and its shift away from extractive industry, has increased pressure to manage land for more than just revenue, says Susan Culp of the Sonoran Institute, an Arizona public-lands think tank. Trust-land managers are being pushed to find new ways to compensate schools while appeasing calls for conservation. Washington's Blanchard Mountain agreement and Community Forest Trust are two examples of this type of compromise (see main story). "There is also a culture shift within trust land agencies," says Culp, with new leadership and staffers finding innovative ways to generate revenue. "One thing I think you will start seeing more of throughout the West is a recognition that restoring and conserving some of these lands is part of protecting the corpus of the trust for the beneficiaries."

Return to:

States work conservation into trust lands management
High Country News Classifieds
  • FEATURES DIRECTOR - HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Features Director to join our editorial...
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • OWN A THRIVING MOUNTAIN GUIDE SERVICE.
    Eastern Sierra guide service for sale to person with vision & expertise to take it onwards. Since 1995 with USFS & NPS permits. Ideal for...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...