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State Trust Lands
State trust lands are a unique category of lands granted by the federal government to states upon entering the Union to foster development of the new state. The square mile sections were granted in a regular pattern, where available, in each state with the direction that the proceeds from the sale of the lands be used to finance public education and other essential institutions. Many states sold their lands quickly without leaving a lasting benefit to the schools. As a result, states admitted to the Union later had tighter restrictions placed on the land grants to ensure that the lands would be available to support the beneficiaries in perpetuity.
There are 36 million surface acres of state trust land in the Intermountain West, located in both rural and urban areas. The management of these lands is governed by a fiduciary trust responsibility. Because of the vast state trust land holdings throughout the West, and their role in shaping growth and development patterns and large-scale, ecologically intact landscapes, the Sonoran Institute initiated research into policies, best practices and tools to improve their management.
Our initial involvement with research and analysis on state trust lands in the West came through our joint venture partnership with Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, now known as Western Lands and Communities. WLC seeks to assist state trust land managers in meeting their fiduciary duty in the changing West by broadening the range of land-use information, tools, and policy options available for the long-term, sustainable management of state trust lands. The project's goal is to enhance the value of the trust for its beneficiaries by fostering better planning and implementation of residential and commercial development on state trust lands and by increasing the amount of state trust land in conservation use. Click here to view Western Lands and Communities state trust land webpage.
In 2008 Sonoran Institute's Sun Corridor Legacy Program joined the state trust land efforts. The program focuses on informing Arizona's citizens and legislators on the complex issue of state trust land. Its ultimate goal is to influence policy reform in Arizona. The program published a series of five reports on Arizona's state trust land which can be viewed on the program's webpage. Click here to view the Sun Corridor's State Trust Land webpage.