State trust lands are managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Trust Lands Management Division.

Timber, surface, and mineral resources are managed for the benefit of the common schools and the other endowed institutions in Montana, under the direction of the State Board of Land Commissioners.

State Auditor Troy Downing is on the Land Board

One of the Land Board members is State Auditor and Insurance Commissioner Troy Downing further explained the purpose of the board.

“The Board of Land Commissioners is actually in the Montana Constitution, and it was created very specifically to manage state trust lands to fund education,” said Downing.  “If you go back to where those state trust lands came from, which was the Enabling Act, basically it was a federal act that granted land to rural states to fund education.”

One of the methods used to raise funds is the sale of some lands that will go into the ‘land banking program’ that purchases land from which income is derived to fund education.

Downing looked at the revenue from the sale of cabin leases.

Downing said one aspect of the sales concerns cabin leases that were not bringing in the kind of value that the current market might demand.

"One of the things that I looked at is these sales were very often being sold to the leaseholder at a minimum bid price," he said. "These are supposed to go to public auction to basically find a high value there, and when you see a bunch of these that are going to the lessee at a low minimum bid price, it kind of tells you there's no market forces there."

Downing wants to explore ways to bring more revenue from those lands that will benefit education.

“We want to explore that and make sure that we are doing what our charge is in maximizing that income to the state, and more specifically to public education in the state, while not depleting these valuable assets,” he said. “So that's a big issue that I've been rolling up my sleeves and trying to solve.”

Cabin auction sale revenue has been headed down lately.

Downing said the revenue from all public trust lands is in a downward trend.

“Two years ago, it was about $46 million,” he said. “Last year it was $41 million, which is not a good trend,” he said. “What this does potentially as we start to maximize and grow the money that we have here is, that it will take less and less talk tax dollars to backfill the overall budget for funding education. So it is meaningful to everybody whether you have kids in school or not.”

So, who's on the Land Board, anyway?

The members of the State Land Board include the Governor, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the Auditor and Insurance Commissioner and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

 

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