A proposal to create a 620,000-acre national monument in the San Rafael Swell "won't be swell" for Utah's school trust fund unless arrangements can be made to gain compensation up to 100,000 acres of school lands within the proposed boundaries.

Stephen G. Boyden, director of the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration since last August, told members of the State Board of Education that his agency already is determining specifically where the trust lands are located and looking at tentative proposals to present to the federal government to generate that compensation.

"This is one of the top items on our agenda. . . . We will have a 'wish list' for the Bureau of Land Management," he said.

At statehood, Utah's schools were given four sections in each township to generate money for schools. The sections are "in a shotgun pattern" across the state and often have little value in their present state, Boyden said. Over the past 10 years, the trust lands administration has aggressively pursued trades or sales of the trust lands, particularly when they are within tracts that are either being used or are desired for federal designation.

Successful trades for consolidated lands that are more productive have contributed to a very significant increase in the trust fund, Boyden said. He presented a current report that shows the reserve now at $408.9 million. In 1985, the fund stood at only $19.9 million. Interest from the fund is distributed to Utah schools on a proportional basis to use as they see fit to improve education.

"This was one of our better years," said Boyden. High oil and gas prices generated some $34 million for the trust. Next year, with gas and oil prices depressed, the bottom line may not look as well. Minerals were the major source of income at $43.5 million for the year. Coal revenues added another $6 million to the fund. The trust land administration's goal is to build the permanent fund to $1 billion over the next 10 years.

No tax money is used to administer the agency. This year, according to the annual report, expenses were less than 10 percent of net revenues, a historic low for the agency.

In the past, trust lands administrators waited for potential users or buyers to approach the agency. Now, the agency initiates sales if there is an indication of strong market interest, he said. Putting the lands into private hands often generates tax income that supports the schools or other government entities on an ongoing basis, as well as adding to the fund.

During 2001, the agency arranged the exchange of more than 200,000 acres in the west desert area for 17 consolidated blocks of federal lands that have potential for development. That was the largest exchange since 1999, when lands inside the Grand Staircase Escalante Monument were traded for lands with mineral and petroleum values.


E-mail: tvanleer@desnews.com