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Health, Science & Environment

Trust Lands Agency Focuses On Students, Not Multiple Use

Judy Fahys
A private owner purchased nearly 400 acres at Comb Ridge (on photo's right side) near Bluff on Wednesday by outbidding a foundation that wanted to preserve the land's historic features. The area is included in the Bears Ears National Monument proposal.

Utah’s trust-lands agency netted $5.5 million this week for a fund that benefits schoolchildren. Private owners made the highest bids now own more than 3,800 acres of land that’s also prized for scenery, history and recreation.

“We were very pleased with the outcome,” says Kim Christy, deputy director of Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. “We do not operate under a multiple use mandate, as you know, like the federal government does but instead have a singular mandate with a specific allegiance to our beneficiaries.”

The Utah Constitution requires SITLA to squeeze all the profits it can from 3.3 million acres under its jurisdiction. Proceeds from minerals, energy, development and sales go into a fund that pumped around $49 million dollars into schools last year.

“That mandate is what it is,” says Christy, “and we’re trying to perform accordingly.”

SITLA sometimes trades lands to other government agencies – strictly to maximize revenue.

But some critics say factors like climate change and preserving Utah’s natural heritage should be a bigger part of the equation.

“We could all benefit from flexibility,” says John Ruple, a law professor at the University of Utah who’s studied the privatization of government lands and who attended SITLA’s most recent auction. “And we could all benefit from a long-term management vision.”

Last winter, lawmakers passed a bill outlining how the state would manage roughly 30 million acres that’s now in federal control. That law would let SITLA keep managing trust lands the same way it has since statehood.

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