- Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) - State education officials this week warned that the designation of a new national monument in southern Utah could cut into money that helps fund public schools.

The words of caution come as groups advocate for the establishment of a national monument in the Bears Ear region in southwestern Utah that would cover 157,000 acres of trust lands that bring in money for schools. One proponent says the state is misconstruing the reality, and that schools would benefit from the national monument designation.

Designating areas as protected national monuments prevents development from happening, eliminating the ability for a state trust fund to collect money that goes to public schools, said Tim Donaldson, the School Children’s Trust director for the Utah State Board of Education, the Spectrum of St. George reports (https://bit.ly/1QZvCP0).

In a news release this week, the Utah Trust Lands Administration said “conservation legacy should not come at the expense of Utah classrooms.”

About 6 percent of state lands belong to a trust created when Utah became a state in 1896. The revenue generated through oil, gas and mineral leases and royalties, as well as real estate development goes to state institutions, primarily public schools. The trust has generated about $1.4 billion for schools since 1994, according to state figures.

“It doesn’t matter what county those lands are in because they generate revenue for all schools,” Donaldson said.

Josh Ewing, executive director of the conservation group, Friends of Cedar Mesa, said if Congress or the president designates Bears Ears a national monument, Utah schools would benefit because the state would likely acquire more lucrative land.

After President Bill Clinton’s designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996, Utah negotiated a land swap that resulted in the state acquiring lands that produced more money for schools.

State officials “know better than anybody else that a designation for Bears Ear is a fantastic opportunity to trade out low potential land for much more economically development lands,” Ewing told The Associated Press. “This is a negotiating ploy to help them get as much as they can.”

Native Americans and conservation groups advocating to create a national monument in the Bears Ears Buttes region south of Canyonlands National Parks want to protect tribal cliff dwellings, rock art and burial sites.

Two congressman are also pushing to convert the Cleveland-Lloyd dinosaur fossil quarry into “Jurassic National Monument,” but that site about 150 miles southeast of Salt Lake City is already a National Natural Landmark. The proposal doesn’t call for expanding the acreage.

Tracy Miller, of the Trust Lands Board, said President Bill Clinton’s designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 led to tens of millions in legal fees for the federal government and forced a land swap to protect the funding source for Utah schools.

“The important thing is for everybody to realize we have trust lands within these areas,” Miller told the Spectrum. “It’s a significant amount of money that comes to our schools and it would be hard if those lands were captured.”


Information from: The Spectrum, https://www.thespectrum.com

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