Clyde Snow

State Institutional Trust Lands Administration: What is SITLA and Why Does It Matter?

by | Mar 9, 2023

Public Lands play an important role in Utah’s physical and political landscape—but who decides what will happen on each piece of that land? While many are familiar with organizations like the Bureau of Land Management, SITLA—or the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration—is a lesser-known office that plays an important role in the distribution and use of land in Utah. Their mission is to hold in trust and manage certain state lands for the benefit of public education, and their actions have far-reaching implications. Mike Johnson, the Chief Legal Counsel for SITLA, recently joined Clyde Snow’s Emily Lewis on The Ripple Effect to discuss his work with the organization.

Every state admitted to the union after about 1800 received a grant of land from the federal government to support public education. By the late 1800s, congress started to put more express restrictions and prescriptions into what these lands had to be used for (specifically the support of public school systems). Utah’s enabling act specifies four sections of land (ten percent of the land mass of the township) to be held in trust for public schools. Since Utah is a public land state with a fairly high proportion of federal ownership, the land dedicated to public education takes from the federal government’s allotted land and puts it back in the hands of the state in the form of trusts.

For most of Utah’s history, these state lands were managed by the Division of State Lands and Forestry. In 1994, however, the legislature created SITLA as a separate independent entity from DNR to emphasize a singular focus on managing school trust lands. This separation also helps insulate the contribution of funding to the schools from the ups and downs of the economy and real estate. 

SITLA’s job is to manage the land in such a way that funds their beneficiaries—predominantly K-12 schools but some higher education organizations as well. Revenue groups within the organization (including the energy and mineral, real estate development, and surface divisions) are all tasked with researching, planning, and overseeing different activities that generate revenue such as leasing, selling, granting easements, real estate development projects, and anything else for which specific land might be suitable to generate revenue for the permanent school fund. That fund is then invested by Treasurer’s Office with distributions made over time to schools and other beneficiaries.

Right now, SITLA is currently involved in a number of renewable energy projects. While they are an entity set up to manage trust land for a restricted category of beneficiaries, not the public at large, their market-driven and independent nature allows them to take advantage of environmentally forward opportunities without getting caught in bureaucratic red tape. Right now, they are targeting lands for acquisition that will be useful for solar energy development, geothermal development, and more.  

To learn more about SITLA, read about their mission and projects at https://trustlands.utah.gov/. 

— Haley Kendall

Sign up for our latest updates.


Recent Posts

Ripple Effect Rewind! – Silver-Buckshot

This week we are revisiting an earlier episode that is still highly relevant to today's water discussion. We are looking back on episode 43: Silver-Buckshot.Jesse Clark of Stream Landscape Architecture and Planning talks us through his many projects and the...

Ripple Effect Rewind! – River City

This week we are revisiting an earlier episode that is still highly relevant to today's water discussion. We are looking back on episode 21: River City.Soren Simonsen, Executive Director of the Jordan River Commission, discusses the importance of vibrant urban...

Ripple Effect 161: Maven’s Notebook

Chris Austin, publisher of Maven’s Notebook, walks us through her EXCELLENT website covering all things California water news. Maven’s Notebook is brimming with timely and comprehensive information on a number of hot topics. Chris discusses collaboration as both the...

Ripple Effect 160: Great Salt Lake Issues Forum

Lynn de Freitas, Executive Director of Friends of Great Salt Lake, joins us to discuss their 2024 Great Salt Lake Issues Forum – "Great Salt Lake: To Preserve and Protect in Perpetuity, How are We Doing?" A great conversation about how to gauge progress on the Lake...

Ripple Effect 159: Solar Panels Over Canals

Jon Parry, Assistant Manager for Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, joins us to discuss the many benefits of their solar panel demonstration project over the Layton Canal. This project is so cool on so many levels and has some serious potential for scalability...

Ripple Effect 158: HDH Desalination Technology

Christopher Link, Founder, joins us to discuss his HDH Desalination Technology and his HALO Team’s participation in Elon Musk’s X-Prize Competition. Do not miss this conversation! So many interesting and innovative ideas occurring about how to incentivize useful water...

Related Posts