- Associated Press - Friday, January 1, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The head of Utah’s state trust lands administration stepped down this week after a dozen years steering the agency that earns money for public schools.

For the 12 years Kevin Carter has run the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, the fund has grown by $1.3 billion.

The administration, known as SITLA, manages 3.4 million acres of land remaining from a statehood grant. Money is made off the lands through oil and gas leases and real-estate deals and then put into public school trust funds.

Schools now receive five times what they did a decade ago from the fund. In 2015, the fund gave $46 million to schools, which was the largest payout in the fund’s history.

The windfall seen under Carter’s leadership dovetailed with a flourishing real estate market and thriving oil and natural gas production on the lands, according to Deseret News (https://bit.ly/1Vssv51).

Critics have said Carter and the SITLA administration focused overwhelmingly on making money and risked the environment to clear the way for drilling, mining and grazing on the lands.

“We have certainly had our disagreements with SITLA,” said Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “But Kevin was always open and respectful with us, and we appreciated that.”

Carter said conservation is important but generating money from the lands is vital.

“I’ve heard the argument that schoolchildren need open space and a place to go out and recreate. I understand that, but Utah has more open space than many states have total space, and Utah has yet to crack the top 50 in per pupil expenditures,” he said. “I won’t apologize for a second that we are very focused on using these lands to make revenue.”

Carter said the administration has protected thousands of acres through land swaps, by trading environmentally sensitive lands for acres that were more likely to generate money for schools.

As leader of SITLA, the job not only required Carter to negotiate with environmental groups, but education officials as well.

Margaret Bird, the former trust lands director for the Utah State Office of Education, said she went head to head with Carter regularly.

“I would take on this mother bear attitude and tell him that this land belongs to the schoolchildren . Kevin often referred to the beneficiaries as a two-edged sword. We would take him on over certain issues, but he would stand out front and take the arrows,” she said.

SITLA board Chairman Louie Cononelos said Carter was a diplomatic leader of the agency.

“He lets people know what the vision is. He does a great deal of listening and is always willing to take good advice and counsel, with the idea of doing what is best for the beneficiaries,” Cononelos said.

Carter, 61, said he plans to take a year or two to spend time with family and then serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with his wife.

___

Information from: Deseret News, https://www.deseretnews.com


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