Home109K Acres of School Trust Land Captured in Bears Ears National Monument

109K Acres of School Trust Land Captured in Bears Ears National Monument

The Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) estimates the newly-declared Bears Ears National Monument captures approximately 109,000 acres of state school trust lands, which are managed by SITLA on behalf of Utah’s K-12 education system. SITLA is currently reviewing the monument proclamation and map, and will work with its Board of Trustees, the Utah State Board of Education, and other state leaders to determine the best path forward. It is important to note that while the proclamation acknowledges the need to exchange state school trust lands within the new monument, it offers no specific guidelines, timelines, nor federal lands as possible exchange targets. The proclamation simply states the “Secretary of the Interior shall explore entering into a memorandum of understanding with the State that would set forth terms…for an exchange of land currently owned by the State of Utah…for land of approximately equal value managed by the BLM outside the boundary of the monument.” Federal-state land exchanges are extremely complex and cumbersome. Previous exchanges have required identification of possible exchange lands, negotiations, appraisals, adherence to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and approval by the Utah Legislature and likely the U.S. Congress. Past monument designations have resulted in the successful exchange of school trust lands within monument boundaries for federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands elsewhere in Utah. President Bill Clinton’s creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 ultimately led to a $50 million payment to the Permanent School Fund and a significant land exchange to protect Utah’s education endowment. Despite the amiable collaboration between Governor Michael Leavitt and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, the exchange process took nearly two years to complete. The most recent federal-state land exchange, the 60,000-acre Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009, took nine years to finalize. 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, and $50 million this current school year. While SITLA is disappointed this designation occurred through unilateral action by the President, rather than through negotiation and compromise, our agency will work in good faith to determine if an exchange agreement with the Department of the Interior is possible and made in the best interests of the school trust beneficiaries and the state of Utah.  

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