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How Trust Lands Will Be Affected By New Bears Ears Designation

Trust lands make up about 6 percent of Utah’s land. One important distinction to make is that trust lands aren’t public lands. They don’t fall under the same usage guidelines. Instead, they’re managed to make money for Utah public institutions. Utah’s public school system holds 96 percent of all Utah trust lands. 

Kim Christy, the deputy director of Surface and External Relations at SITLA, said the organization has generated $1.5 billion for Utah public schools since 1994.

“Our bread and butter, frankly, as an agency and our administration, is oil and gas and mineral development,” Christy said. “Probably 60 percent of the proceeds that we receive each year is attributed to that type of development.”

SITLA had 109,000 acres of trust land within Bears Ears, but Christy said the new, smaller monument will likely only include about 20,000 acres of this land. That means about 87,000 acres of trust lands that were previously part of the monument would now fall outside of its borders. SITLA faces the question of what to do with these lands, which will no longer be regulated as part of the monument.

Christy said a house resolution introduced on Tuesday makes the question even more complicated.

“In Section 3 of the legislation, it actually creates a mineral withdrawal for all the federal acres that were attributed to the original Obama monument boundary,” Christy said.

The resolution is called the Shash Jáa and Indian Creek National Monuments Act. If it passes, mineral development on any of the lands that were part of Bears Ears would remain impossible. If this is the case, SITLA may try to exchange all 109,000 acres, both inside and outside the monuments borders. If the resolution doesn’t pass, they would consider keeping the 87,000 acres on the outside to make money for public institutions. Mineral development would remain a possibility.

“Mineral development is a very speculative process, and so, again, that would be a matter of future opportunities and speculative dynamics that play out with the industry and how that would all ultimately play itself out,” Christy said.

The bill is under consideration by the congressional Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Utah Republican Congressman Rob Bishop.