State Trust Land at a Glance
On February 24, 1863, by an Act of Congress, the Territory of Arizona was established. The Congressional Act reserved Sections 16 and 36 of each township for the benefit of the common schools. The State Enabling Act, passed June 20, 1910, allowed the Territory of Arizona to prepare for statehood. In addition to the previously designated Sections 16 and 36, the Enabling Act assigned Section 2 and 32 of each township to be held in Trust for the common schools. The need of other public institutions were also considered by Congress, and through the Enabling Act, more than 2 million additional acres were allocated to be held in Trust for the benefit of the identified public restrictions.
Arizona has approximately 9.28 million surface acres and 9 million subsurface acres of Trust lands. Scattered throughout the State, the Trust lands are extremely diverse in character, ranging from Sonoran desert lands, desert grasslands, and riparian areas in the southern half of the state, to the mountains, forests and Colorado Plateau regions of northern Arizona. The majority of the Trust lands are located in rural areas of the State with more than one million acres located within or adjacent to urbanized areas. The Trust lands constitute approximately 13% of land ownership in Arizona.
State Trust lands are often misunderstood in terms of both their character and their management. They are not public lands, but are instead the subject of a public Trust created to support the education of our children. The Trust accomplishes this mission in a number of ways, including, through its sale and lease of Trust lands for grazing, agriculture, municipal, school site, residential, commercial and open space purposes. In both rural and urban contexts, Trust lands also provide the substantial added benefit of creating critical local economic stimulation.
There are many levels of Trust land management pursued by the Land Department that are directly related to conservation and stewardship, including programs for environmental protection, forest health and fire suppression, and range land management. Even the Trust law requirement that Trust lands be sold or leased for their highest and best appraised use to the highest bidder at public auction creates no danger that these land will disappear. Beyond the supply of Trust land being secure under this mandate, open space comprises a substantial portion of the uses that create a critical, increasing and dedicated source of funding for Arizona’s schools.
With respect to the foregoing, here are some factual aspects of Trust land management to consider:
- Arizona has conserved a greater percentage of its original federal land grant (88%) than any of the other 22 states receiving such grants. That’s 9.2 of the original 10.8 million, with much of the difference being represented by exchanges with the federal government wherein the state received land of equal value but lesser acreage.
- The Land Department actually sells a relatively very small amount of land each year. Over the past ten years the annual average has been about 5,000 acres statewide (.0005, or five one-hundredths of one percent of the total Trust land holdings). In FY 2001, only 3,500 acres were sold statewide, but a record $148 million was earned for the Trust through those auctions.
- Earning money for Arizona’s public schools is the primary mission of the Trust’s management. Over the first 90 years of the Trust nearly $1 billion has been amassed in the schools permanent fund alone. Given the real estate marketplace and the location of Trust lands in areas of potential growth, the permanent fund is expected to grow to over $2 billion in just the next ten years. And thanks to a funding formula created as part of Proposition 301 (passed by voters in the 2000 elections) coupled with the burgeoning value of the Trusts assets, an estimated $500 million to $1 billion will go directly into classrooms over that same decade. These funds are in addition to the growth of the permanent fund, and in addition to the education budget appropriated by the legislature each year (to which the Trust will also contribute $72 million annually under the new formula).
- The critical role of the Trust in funding our public schools should not be confused as a concept that is antithetical to open space. Trust lands have been a major contributor to open space in Arizona while earning money for education in the process.
- Notable open spaces that were once State Trust land include the areas of the Phoenix Mountain Preserves, Squaw Peak, the White Tanks, South Mountain, Papago Park, Buenos Aries National Wildlife Refuge, Catalina State Park and Picacho Peak State Park.
- There are more than 8.4 million acres of open space on State Trust land currently under agriculture and grazing leases.
- Trust lands are a substantial component of the process under Arizona’s 1998 Growing Smarter program, having conceptually planned over 150,000 acres in urban areas in just the last few years. Those conceptual plans contemplate a variety of land uses (including a substantial amount of open space) and are in the process of being integrated into local general plans as required under Growing Smarter.
- From 1990 through 2001 open space use has been predominant on State Trust land, even outside the grazing/agriculture context. During this period:
- 222,000 acres were disposed of through sales and exchanges, 178,000 for open space.
- 85,000 acres are under commercial leases, 66,000 for open space.
- 21,500 acres were sold in urban areas, 6,500 for open space.
- Over the last several years, the Arizona Preserve Initiative (API) has underscored the relationship between Trust lands and open space in our urban areas:
The API became law in 1996. It is designed to encourage the preservation of select parcels of State Trust land in and around urban areas for open space. The law lays out a process by which Trust land can be petitioned for reclassification for conservation, and subsequently leased or sold at public auction for that purpose. In 1998 the voters passed Proposition 303 which included a matching grant program for the acquisition or lease of State Trust lands under API. The following represent some of the essential basic facts regarding the application of the API program to date:
- Total urban acres petitioned for reclassification...103,928 acres through 29 petitions.
- Total urban acres reclassified...37,739 acres through 14 petitions.
- Total urban acres in various stages of the reclassification process...36,222 acres through 13 petitions.
- Total urban acres sold...1,612 acres through 5 sales (earning $26 Million for public education).
- Total urban acres under an application for sale...1,716 acres under 3 applications.
Under the guidelines of its constitutional mission, the Trust will continue to be managed for the benefit of Arizona’s children.