Trust Lands Explained

How Trust Lands Started

The idea of trust lands began with early leaders of our nation who believed that a strong democracy is founded upon a well-educated public. John Adams was a crucial figure in the discussion, saying that the education of “every rank and class of people, down to the lowest and the poorest” had “to be the care of the public” and “maintained at the public expense.” Its importance required that “no expense . . . would be too extravagant.”

They proposed that land be set aside for each new state entering the Union to support public schools and other important institutions. 

Unlike public lands, trust lands are held in trust for beneficiaries designated by Congress at statehood.

Utah’s Statehood

At Statehood in 1896, Congress granted Trust Lands to the new state of Utah with the provision that revenue earned from the sale or lease of the land be placed into permanent endowment for public schools. Since then, beneficiaries have been added to include Utah Schools for the Deaf, Utah Schools for the Blind, Utah State Hospital, Juvenile Justice Services, Miners Hospital, University of Utah, Utah State University, Colleges of Education, College of Mines and Earth Sciences at the University of Utah, state reservoirs, and public buildings.

Four Sections in Each Township

Trust Land parcels were largely allocated by apportioning the state into townships, each six by six miles, and dividing each township into 36 square-mile sections. Utah was given sections 2, 16, 32, and 36 in each township for public schools, resulting in a checkerboard of land ownership. All other designated state institutions were granted fixed amounts of acreage.

Trust Lands Administration

Created in 1994 by the Utah Legislature, the Trust Lands Administration manages Utah’s approximately  3.3 million acres of combined surface and mineral estate and an additional 1.2 million acres of minerals-only estate.

The agency generates revenue through energy development, real estate planning, and surface resource use. All proceeds are deposited into permanent endowments for each beneficiary. Since 1994, Trust Lands has generated $1.96 billion in revenue to help grow all permanent funds to $3.2 billion.

A separate agency—the School and Institutional Trust Funds Office—invests Permanent Fund endowments and calculates annual fund distributions for each beneficiary.

Learn How Trust Land Funds Get to Your School

Learn How We Have Made an Impact With Trust Lands

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