State Journal: Dilemma over schooltrust lands
A controversy in Utah has illustrated once again the conflict between the need to find more money for the schools and the imperative of protecting valuable historical and natural resources.
Utah, like a number of other states, still has extensive "school trust" lands, which were given to it by the federal government at statehood to produce a continuing source of income for education.
The lands have been a sore point in several states, with educators frequently complaining that the properties have not been managed to yield as much money as possible for the schools.
In Mississippi, for example, trust lands frequently have been rented out at extremely low prices, in some cases as little as 1 cent per acre.
In Utah, the problem is that the trust land is broken up into many small, scattered tracts that are particularly difficult to manage effectively for income, such as in the middle of national parks.
A couple of years ago, state officials suggested increasing the income potential of trust lands inside the national parks by renting them for tourist cabins, souvenir shops, and other money-making activities. The proposal generated a heavy storm of opposition from conservationists, however.
More recently, officials indirectly raised the possibility of selling some of the many fossils and Indian artifacts that can still be found on Utah's trust lands.
"We entertained the notion of marketing paleontological and cultural specimens to generate income for the schools," said Karl Kappe, the policy integration manager for the division of state lands and forestry.
As discussed by officials, the plan could have led to the auctioning off of objects found on state lands to the highest bidder.
But the proposal was sharply criticized by many scholars, who argued that it would be wrong to sell off the state's heritage.
Even the state's education community, which had backed the idea of leasing land in national parks, balked at the thought of peddling cultural treasures.
Bowing to the opposition, state officials are reconsidering their proposal.
Even so, Mr. Kappe still seems frustrated by resistance to his efforts to meet the mandate of producing money for education.
"It's kind of a slippery slope," Mr. Kappe observed, "because once you pass up one marketable resource in the name of preservation, what other resources do you pass up?"--K.D.
Vol. 11, Issue 17, Page 20