On February 14th, 1912, Arizona was admitted as America’s 48th state. At the outset of statehood, the federal government gave Arizona over 10 million acres of land for the benefit of public schools and 13 other state institutions. These lands come under the purview of the Arizona State Land Department and are commonly called “State Trust Lands.” Under the Arizona Constitution, State Trust Land must be leased or sold to the highest bidder, leaving few opportunities for the permanent protection and conservation of biologically-sensitive State Trust Lands. Most State Trust Land is currently under lease (commercial, grazing, agriculture, or mineral), although over one million acres have been sold and developed.
For years, conservationists across the state have been searching for meaningful State Trust Land reform, with the goal of protecting a small sub-set of lands that contains important wildlife habitat, riparian resources, wildlife linkages, and recreational and scenic values.
Numerous citizens’ initiatives and legislative referrals have sought to provide a mechanism for the conservation of these select parcels of State Trust Land. Additionally, in 1996, the Arizona Legislature established the Arizona Preserve Initiative (API), a program designed to encourage the preservation of open space around urban areas through the reclassification of State Trust Land for conservation purposes. Unfortunately, none of the propositions have yet passed at the ballot box and portions of the API have been discontinued due to lawsuit threats.
Although there are not any current plans for a new State Trust Land reform citizens’ initiative, the Coalition continues to advocate for State Trust Land reform generally.