States are obligated to generate income from state trust lands, through mining, grazing, agriculture, or logging, but a new report published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy shows how conservation can be an equally robust revenue source.
State trust land management agencies are poised to make better use of conservation mechanisms including conservation sales and leases through easements or outright fee-simple purchases, ecosystems services markets, and land tenure and exchange, according to the Policy Focus Report Conserving State Trust Lands: Strategies for the Intermountain West,co-authored by Susan Culp and Joe Marlow.
The report, the product of Western Lands and Communities, a joint program of the Lincoln Institute and the Sonoran Institute, is being unveiled at the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute’s 24th annual conference Western Places, Western Spaces: Building Fair & Resilient Communities, in Denver March 12-13, 2015. It will be featured in a moderated session on land management for long term sustainability including Tobin Follenweider of the Colorado State Board of Land Commissioners, Genevieve Johnson of Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative, and Culp, formerly a project manager at the Sonoran Institute, and now principal at Next West Consulting, LLC.
At each state’s inception, Congress granted lands to each state for the purpose of supporting public institutions, primarily K-12 public schools. Eighty-five percent of the remaining 46 million acres of these state trust lands held in trust for these beneficiaries are concentrated in the West.
Conserving State Trust Lands, available in print and by free download,explores current and recommended strategies to achieve conservation of state trust lands with ecological and environmental value, while maintaining the trust obligation to earn revenue for K-12 schools and other beneficiaries.
State trust lands are an often misunderstood category of land ownership in the U.S. According to Stephanie Sklar, CEO of the Sonoran Institute, “Revenue generation and land conservation are frequently viewed as being at odds; however, this latest report delves into how conservation of trust lands can be compatible with the trust responsibility of revenue generation.”
“Improving conservation methods will provide new opportunities for the Colorado State Board of Land Commissioners to fulfill its dual mission of producing reasonable and consistent income and providing sound stewardship for trust beneficiaries,” said Tobin Follenweider, the deputy director of the Colorado State Board of Land Commissioners.
The Lincoln Institute’s first Policy Focus Report on state trust lands, State Trust Lands in the West: Fiduciary Duty in a Changing Landscape (2006), and a companion website, State Trust Lands, served as a primer on the issue: how much land each state holds in trust; the type of revenue generating activities conducted on trust lands; who the beneficiaries are; and the annual revenue generated and distributed to the beneficiaries.
Building on that work, authors Culp and Marlow evaluate the pros and cons of the conservation mechanisms that are currently available to state trust land management agencies, including conservation sales and leases through easements or outright fee-simple purchases, contributory value and nonmonetary value, ecosystems services markets, and land tenure and exchange. They also offer recommendations for new methods to realize revenue from conservation activity. Key recommendations are to:
- Expand the use of conservation sales and leases
- Improve the utility of contributory value in the master planning process
- Increase access to ecosystem services markets; and
- Streamline the land tenure adjustment process, which includes reform of the appraisal process.
Monetizing conservation will provide opportunities for land management agencies to pursue conservation options. All state trusts carry the mandate to fund beneficiaries in perpetuity, indicating the need for sustainable land management practices.