To those who manage the 1.3 million acres of state school-trust lands, the issue of managing those lands is purely one of economics: How much money can those lands put into school coffers?
But Gov. Norm Bangerter doesn't agree and he minced no words when he told some 200 land managers, natural-resource industry leaders and policymakers that when it comes to state lands, "consideration of the general public interest" will outweigh "economic maximization.""I believe state land-management agencies should use the principles of multiple-use planning on all state lands, including the school-trust lands, and I have asked agencies to propose methods to ensure that this can be accomplished."
Bangerter's comments came Thursday at the "Governor's Forum on Natural Resources: Defining Multiple Use," and appeared to respond to several attempts by the State Land Board to sell off or lease school-trust lands in sensitive areas with wildlife and archaeological resources.
For example, the State Land Board had considered a proposal to turn thousands of acres of school-trust lands in the Book Cliffs into a private hunting preserve. And there has been a proposal to sell off three sections of state land in southeastern Utah renowned for their spectacular Anasazi Indian tower ruins.
"The revenue (a private hunting preserve would produce) is not sufficient to justify closing an area to the public for the benefit of a few," Bangerter said. "Not only do the Book Cliffs contribute to the quality of life in Utah, but it also brings economic benefits and tax dollars into the state."
Further, Bangerter said the roadless area in the Book Cliffs, which is now up for review, should be protected. Planning efforts should give "full and equal consideration to the scarcity and great value of this recreational opportunity. If appropriate, steps should be taken to permanently protect the opportunity.
"In addition, significant archaeological resources have been discovered on state lands. The state should, and we are developing procedures to ensure that these resources are protected for the benefit of all citizens."
Bangerter's comments came before forum presentations in which members of the State Land Board maintained that school-trust lands are not public lands, and that the board should continue to manage them for economic return.
Doug Bates of the state Office of Education, a member of the State Land Board, argued that because more money is needed to fund Utah schools, greater emphasis should be placed on getting maximum revenue from the lands.
"If we set aside the Book Cliffs,what is going to replace the revenue that could have been brought in to the schools? The taxpayers," he said. "So is preserving the Book Cliffs in the interest of the state's school kids? No, it is not."
Among the states with school-trust lands, Bates said Utah is "dead last" in the amount of money going to schools from the trust lands.
The trust lands were established when Utah became a state. In exchange for the state not taxing federal lands, public schools and some others were given four townships in every section to be held in trust by the state. The interest from the permanent trust fund goes to fund schools, while the principle is supposed to remain intact year to year.
School officials maintain that the Enabling Act that gave Utah statehood mandates that the trust lands be managed for maximum economic return. But Bangerter said Thursday that public interests can be an overriding factor.
Bates argued that amending the Enabling Act to allow for multiple use removes all economic potential for school-trust lands because all uses will have equal rights to the lands.