Commissioner speaks on State Trust Land

By Ryn Gargulinski: QCS

What takes up more than 13 million acres across the state, is found in every county except Los Alamos and raked in $386 million in revenues last year?

Anyone who answered State Trust Land may have been listening in Thursday when Public Lands Commissioner Patrick Lyons spoke to the Rotary Club at the Holiday Inn.

Lyons not only presented a brief history of the public land office but gave a rundown on where the land stands today.

Before New Mexico even obtained statehood in 1912, Lyons said, it had a public land office. In 1850, Lyons said Congress passed the Organic Act, which created the territory of New Mexico and set aside two sections in every township to support the schools of the territory.

As the townships grew, so did the expanse of public lands owned by the land office, which now stands at nearly 12 percent of the state, Lyons said.

Although the land office owns the land, the revenue from each acre is designated to a specific state institution, such as hospitals, reform and military institutes, community colleges and universities, with the majority of the funds going to public schools, Lyons said.

“Our job is not to allocate the money,” Lyons said of his office. “Our job is just to raise it.”

And raise funds they do, Lyons said, with a projected $450 million expected for fiscal year 2006, more than $60 million than last year’s tally. “The total is expected into the billions by my third year in office,” Lyons said adding monies are raised by leasing the state land.

Some acreage is leased to produce renewable energy, Lyons said, such as wind farms; others are leased to farmers or businesses for agricultural and commercial uses. A fish farm in Hidalgo County, a teen center in Santa Fe and Quay County’s Stuckey’s, a roadside food stop, are examples of the latter.

Highest on the leasing list, however, is for development of oil, gas and minerals, Lyons said, as New Mexico ranks high in the nation as producer of potash, natural gas, copper, crude oil and coal.

“We need to utilize all the natural resources we can to help with the energy problem,” said Rotary Club member Elmer Schuster who was on hand at the meeting. “We can help ourselves by using the resources and help the entire state (by raising money with them).”

Other initiatives outlined by Lyons included a Don’t Trash the Trust program designed to restore state trust land that has been neglected and dumped upon; fuel wood cutting and species conservation initiatives and a preservation program for cultural resources.

Lyons said his office is also involved in a Land for Schools program, which will actually sell the land to schools who need to expand, and education and outreach, such as the Santa Fe River Restoration Project in which more than 675 students participated.