Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) recently introduced legislation that would authorize a land exchange along the Colorado River corridor in southeastern Utah that would not only protect critical land but more importantly, consolidate school trust lands used for the financial benefit of Utah's education system.
"In Utah we treasure the education of our children, and we also treasure our spectacular public lands," said Bennett, "This land exchange seeks to protect both. It is a win-win situation for the state and its school children, and the Department of the Interior as the caretaker of our public lands."
The 3.5 million acres of school trust lands scattered throughout the state are a key component of Utah's education system. Revenue from these lands are dedicated to the support of public education through the State School Fund, a permanent income-producing endowment created by Congress upon statehood to fund public education.
"It is critical to both the state of Utah and the Bureau of Land Management that we consolidate their respective lands to ensure that both public agencies are permitted to fulfill their mandates," added Bennett.
Beginning in 1998, Congress passed the first major Utah school trust land exchange which consolidated hundreds of thousands of acres. Again in 2000, Congress enacted an exchange consolidating another 100,000 acres. Bennett played a major role in those efforts. The Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2005 he introduced today is another step in the effort to give the school children the deal they were promised at statehood. Areas proposed for transfer to federal ownership include the world famous Kokopelli and Slickrock biking trails, lands within wilderness study areas, and view sheds for Arches National Park and will allow for more consistent management by the agency.
Last year, Senators Bennett and Orrin Hatch introduced similar language to lay the groundwork for their efforts to pass a bill during the 109th Congress. Hatch is a cosponsor of the bill again this year. Companion legislation was also introduced by the Utah House delegation members earlier this month.
Bennett's bill will be referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Full text is available at www.senate.bennett.gov.