Last week in Monticello, anti-monument protestors told the Salt Lake Tribune that Bears Ears National Monument (BENM) “will thwart economic development, impede public access and undermine local schools by disrupting possible revenue sources.”
While there are many perspectives on BENM, the assumption that the monument takes money from public schools is false and demands correction.
Utah leaders are perpetuating a false narrative that Trust Lands will be lost to schools in San Juan County as a result of BENM. But a viable and profitable solution exists to ensure increased Land Trust funding to all Utah schools.
As Action Utah Issue Captain, Ashley Anderson, stated in her letter to the editor in the Salt Lake Tribune Tuesday, there are some School Trust Lands captured within Bears Ears. But those lands are not easily developed, are environmentally sensitive and aren’t profitable. Utah leadership should follow cues from leaders in the ’90s who pursued a “Trust Land Exchange” in the designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). The GSENM Land Exchange allowed better suited lands to be developed and invested, and is the single largest contributor to the Trust Land Fund with over $300 million in returns.
No matter what Interior Secretary Zinke decides about the Bears Ears monument designation, the Trust Lands in BENM aren’t working, and an exchange would allow environmental protection, development/investment, and increased public school funding. This non-partisan solution would better serve students and would solve at least one controversy over Bears Ears.
CALL TO ACTION
Call Members of Congress to demand a Trust Land Exchange in Bears Ears National Monument in order to ensure students and teachers have access to needed funds. Tell them that as a public school [TEACHER, PARENT, STUDENT, SPECIALIST, PARAPROFESSIONAL, ADMINISTRATOR, ETC] you support a Bears Ears Exchange. Here’s how:
- Send a postcard to your Members of Congress asking them to pursue a Bears Ears Trust Land Exchange to benefit Utah schools. Find addresses for your two U.S. Senators and one U.S. Representative by clicking here.
- Call our two U.S. Senators and your one U.S. Representative and ask them to pursue a Bears Ears Trust Land Exchange to benefit Utah schools
- Write a letter to the editor of your local paper espousing the facts about School Trust Lands and the benefits of a Trust Land Exchange in Bears Ears. Not sure how? Use these TIPS or contact us to get help from Issue Captain Ashley Anderson writing a letter to the editor like hers to submit outside of Salt Lake County.
- Sen. Orrin Hatch (202) 224-5251 (DC) // (801) 524-4380 (SLC) // (801) 375-7881 (Provo) // (435) 634-1795 (St. George) // (801) 625-5672 (Ogden) // (435) 586-8435 (Cedar City)
Sen. Mike Lee 202-224-5444 (DC) // 801-524-5933 (SLC) // 435-628-5514 (St. George) // 801-392-9633 (Ogden)
Rep. Rob Bishop (Congressional District 1): 202-225-0453 (DC) // 801-625-0107 (Ogden)
Rep. Chris Stewart (Congressional District 2): 202-225-9730 (DC) // 801-364-5550 (SLC) // 435-627-1500 (St. George)
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Congressional District 3): (202) 225-7751 (DC) // (801) 851-2500 (UT)
Rep. Mia Love (Congressional District 4): (202) 225-3011 (DC) // 801-996-8729 (West Jordan)Not sure who your U.S. Representative is? Check here.
What are Trust Lands?
Trust Lands are scattered throughout Utah and any income from development & investment is placed in a fund that all schools draw from annually. If you have a child in public school, or if you attended public school in Utah, an annual amount was given (no matter the district) to be used for that school’s greatest academic need. Currently, School Community Councils (SCCs) are the bodies that determine what they money is used for.
What do these lands have to do with the Bears Ears Monument Designation?
In the 1990s, Grand Staircase was designated and the GOP wasn’t happy for many reasons but one small reason was that Trust Lands were captured within the monument. The same is happening with Bears Ears. There are a handful of lands in the monument boundaries that would no longer be considered usable by the state.
But here’s the thing: in both Grand Staircase and Bears Ears these Trust Lands aren’t usable anyway.
Environmentally sensitive land is hard to develop and/or invest. So, in the 90s, Utah leadership fought for a Trust Land Exchange. Lands captured within Grand Staircase were traded for lands outside of the monument boundaries. Because those lands were more useable, everyone was a winner! Environmentalists and travel enthusiasts felt they protected sacred and beautiful land. Developers and investors got to do their jobs in appropriate spaces. And best of all? School Trust Lands grew their fund by over 300 MILLION DOLLARS! That Trust Land Exchange from the 90s is currently the single largest contributor to the Trust Land Fund schools use each year.
Why aren’t Utah leaders currently pursuing a Land Exchange?
Utah leadership is busy engaging in the fight for Secretary of the Interior Zinke to reduce the size of Bears Ears or overturn the monument designation outright. Even if this happens, why wouldn’t they want to trade lands we know don’t get a good return on their investment? Schools stand to receive a lot of money from an exchange whether or not the monument designation changes.
Starting a conversation around Land Exchange could also bridge the divide on the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase debates and promote civil dialogue regarding the other issues in the debate. It would also highlight the fact that monument designation has had positive impacts for all Utahns in the past. But our congressional representatives appear to be either unaware of the benefits of a Trust Land Exchange or forgetful of the benefits of the 90’s exchange. Let’s help steer them toward a good solution for Utah schools!