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State Trust Land Reform Needed to Conserve Open Space Lands

Growth in the state of Arizona and the northern Grand Canyon region threatens to invade cherished open space lands, natural areas, and cultural sites on or near state trust lands. Several attempts have been made to pass voter initiatives for managing specific state land parcels as open space. The essential step needed to be able to protect state trust lands as open space is to amend the state constitution to allow state lands to be protected for conservation purposes.

In 1910, the U.S. Congress passed the Arizona–New Mexico Enabling Act, allowing Arizona to become a state. The Enabling Act granted Arizona 10.9 million acres of land, referred to as “state trust land,” to be held in trust for the benefit of the named beneficiaries, primarily the public schools. Both the Enabling Act and the Arizona Constitution provide that the state can lease or sell trust land to the “highest and best bidder” at advertised public auction.

The state currently has 9.2 million acres of trust land remaining. Reform is necessary to preserve the thousands of acres identified for open space protection in numerous land use plans throughout the state. This will involve identifying “conservation lands” — state lands that are valuable to communities and the state as open space.

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