History of Arizona State Trust Land

The Territory of Arizona was established on February 24, 1863, by an Act of Congress; it granted sections 16 and 36 of each township for the benefit of “Common Schools.” Congress recognized the value of the land and the importance of public education to developing states and the nation.

The Arizona-New Mexico Enabling Act of 1910, passed on June 20, 1910, authorized the Territory of Arizona to become a state, and enter the Union on equal footing with the original states. In addition to the previously designated sections of land, the Act assigned sections 2 and 32 of each township to be held in trust for Common Schools (K-12 Education). Congress considered the need for other foundational public services, and through the Enabling Act, more than two million additional acres were allocated for their use.

After all congressional actions were complete, the total acreage granted was approximately 10,900,000 acres. Today, State Trust Land is a dedicated revenue source for 13 beneficiaries.

On May 20, 1912, Arizona’s First Legislature created a three-member State Land Commission to serve as administrator of State Trust land The members were: Mulford Winsor, Chairman; Cy Byrne, Secretary; and William A. Moody, member. Appointed by Governor George W. P. Hunt, they were charged with assessing, evaluating, and making recommendations about the federal land granted by Congress to the State. The Commission was directed to report its findings to the Legislature by the end of Arizona’s 2nd Legislative session.

The Commission concluded, consistent with the Enabling Act of 1910, that Arizona should not sell its Trust land outright, as other states had done. They advised that the lands should be administered in a manner that met a "highest and best use” doctrine. – meaning that the decision to sell or lease the land should be based upon the potential use of each parcel. The Commission recommended the creation of a permanent, Arizona State Land Department (ASLD) "...in order that the multitudinous detail attached to the State’s varied land interests may have constant attention and to prevent irretrievable loss."

The ASLD and the system by which State Trust lands were to be managed were established in 1915 by the State Land Code. With its authority vested from the Enabling Act and the State Constitution, the State Land Code authorized the ASLD to manage and control all Trust lands and the natural products derived from them.

Since ASLD’s inception, its mission has been to manage the State’s Land Trust and to generate maximum revenues, through prudent planning decisions for the Beneficiaries. All land uses must compensate the Beneficiaries, and be minimally invasive, a fact that distinguishes it from the way public land, such as parks or national forests, may be used. While public use of Trust land is not prohibited, it is regulated to ensure protection of the land and reimbursement to the beneficiaries for its use, as prescribed in the State’s Constitution and supporting case law.

Trust lands that are sold or leased become significant contributors to the health and vitality of Arizona’s economy, providing a strong and significant economic development impact in all parts of the state.