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6 GROUPS CRITICIZE MEASURES AFFECTING SCHOOL TRUST LANDS

SHARE 6 GROUPS CRITICIZE MEASURES AFFECTING SCHOOL TRUST LANDS

A half dozen environmental/conservation/wildlife groups joined their voices Thursday to oppose bills that would affect management of Utah's 3.6 million acres of school and institutional trust lands.

Speakers at a news conference were from the Audubon Coordinating Council of Utah, Southern Utah Wilderness Association, Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, Utah Wilderness Association, Utah Wildlife Federation and the Utah Wildlife Leadership Coalition.The groups unitedly attacked several bills being sponsored by a task force that spent the interim studying trust lands issues. The bills would establish a financial return to the beneficiaries as the prime mission of the lands, change the makeup of the State Land Board and alter some management practices.

Passage of the bills would "likely result in reduced overall revenues to the state since the surrounding lands and wildlife could be severely harmed," the groups said in a position letter. Sportsmen, recreationists and livestock grazers could be adversely affected.

The bills don't take into account that the trust lands are "intricately interwoven" with surrounding lands "and are some of the most unique biological and aesthetic lands in Utah," the paper says.

At the very least, any legislation should be delayed until a proposed audit of the State Division of Lands is completed and the task force has continued its study. The task force is seeking reauthorization, the groups said.

The income generated by the trust lands for education is too negligible to support drastic steps such as those incorporated into the bills, spokesmen for the groups said. Only 0.6 percent of education's current financing comes from the lands, and that income could be offset by losses to the general fund that are related to the lands, the groups argued.

Conservation and wildlife proponents in general tend to favor exchanges of trust lands out of their isolated blocks, with consolidation in more productive tracts.