In declaring that public school trust lands in Utah should be managed for the benefit of all - not just for commercial developers or school profits or environmentalists - Gov. Norm Bangerter has struck a sensible middle ground.
The governor told land managers, industry leaders, and policymakers the other day that multiple use and the "general public interest" should guide land-use decisions about the millions of acres of school trust lands, even though those lands are supposed to produce money for schools.There are more than 3.7 million acres of school trust lands in Utah, given as compensation for federal ownership of nearly 70 percent of the rest of the state.
Unfortunately, the land is scattered in bits and pieces over a vast area and is difficult to manage. Another 300,000 acres of school lands have been swallowed by military installations, national parks, wildlife refuges and the like.
State efforts to get compensation for this land and to consolidate some other acreage by trading blocks of federal land have failed.
A certain amount of frustration among state officials has surfaced over the years because of inability to get more economic benefit out of the school trust lands - especially since heavily populated public schools in Utah are always hard-pressed for money. The officials have a point, since Utah ranks last among the states in income to schools from trust lands.
But as Gov. Bangerter pointed out, efforts to maximize earnings of school trust lands should not be done at the sacrifice of every other potential value. Those values need to be weighed and shared as much as possible.
For example, there has been a proposal to sell off three sections of state school lands in southeastern Utah renowned for their spectacular Anasazi Indian tower ruins. Yet the archeological sites have an intrinsic value that transcends money and need to be protected.
This middle ground taken by the governor may bring him criticism from those on either side who want all-out commercial development or all-out environmental protection.
Educators have argued that because schools need the money, more emphasis should be placed on development of school trust lands instead of archeological or historic concerns. Yet there are educational values to be served by protecting unique areas.
School lands should be carefully examined for their profit potential and that potential exploited. But multiple use should remain the guiding principle wherever possible, not just "How much can we make on this?"