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Understanding Endowment Land

Every Idahoan Benefits From Endowment Land

If you went to public school in Idaho, endowment land helped fund your education. Those lands are funding schools today. If you pay taxes in Idaho, the amount is decreased because of endowment land revenue. If you or someone you know works in the timber industry, those workers – as well as the greater economy – have benefited from endowment lands. Many people also enjoy managed camping and trail use on these lands.

History and Legal Background

When Idaho became a state, Congress granted Idaho endowment trust land for the sole purpose of funding specified beneficiaries, which are largely public schools. How the State Board of Land Commissioners (Land Board) must manage these lands is also written in the Idaho Constitution. Article IX, Section VIII mandates that they will be managed “…in such manner as will secure the maximum long-term financial return to the institution to which [it is] granted.”

Endowment Land Beneficiaries
  • Idaho’s public schools
  • Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind
  • University of Idaho
  • Idaho State University
  • Lewis-Clark State College
  • State hospitals for the mentally ill
  • State veterans homes
  • Capitol Commission
  • State correctional system

Learn More

Printable Land Uses
Endowment Land is Different PDF

How Endowment Land Generates Revenue

Under the direction of the Land Board, we generate revenue from endowment lands through timber sales, as well as by leasing the lands for grazing, farming, conservation leasing, communication sites, recreation, residential/commercial real estate, minerals, and more. The Idaho Department of Lands is the administrative arm of the Land Board charged with the day-to-day management of these lands.

Undivided Loyalty

Endowment lands impact all of us in one way or another. But it’s the beneficiaries that have our undivided loyalty. This loyalty is core to the constitutional purpose of endowment lands. No matter how desirable some competing interests may be, we are constitutionally bound not to be swayed by anything that is not in the best long-term financial interest of the beneficiaries. Given our long-term land management mission, we also understand that improving the ecological condition of the lands we manage improves the bottom line for our beneficiaries.

In 1992 the department’s then-Director, Stan Hamilton, penned a guest editorial about managing endowment lands for publication in The Idaho Statesman.  The points he raised nearly 30 years ago still ring true today.

Strictly speaking, the State of Idaho merely holds title to endowment lands in trust for specified beneficiaries much the same as any private trust established to care for a child, conserve the assets of an estate, or fund a favorite charity.

As in a private trust, the maker (settler) of the trust establishes a trust corpus (land, cash, stocks, etc.), a beneficiary, and trust terms (directions), and names a trustee. The trustee has a fiduciary duty to carry out the intent of the settler. The trustee cannot change the trust terms and must operate within the narrow confines of those directions.

In the case of the Idaho endowment lands, the settler is the United States of America; the corpus is the land grant; and, the trustee is the state board of land commissioners (board).

The trust terms, established by the Idaho Admission Act and Article IX, Section B, Idaho Constitution, are very specific. They require the state board of land commissioners to ” … manage the lands l in such manner as will secure the maximum long term financial return to the institution to which granted … “

The state board of land commissioners, as trustees of the trust, manage the endowment lands in accordance with this charge. To allow any other use would be an illegal diversion of proceeds to an entity other than the beneficiaries.

Stan Hamilton, IDL Director

Public Perception

In a letter dated 1969 to then Governor Don Samuelson, land commissioner Gordon Trombley explained how a general misunderstanding about endowment lands creates management challenges.  This is a challenge that impacts the management of endowment lands to this day.

Evidence strongly suggests a lack of public knowledge and understanding of the term “state lands.” These lands are, at times, referred to as, “public lands,” “grant lands,” “school lands,” “endowment lands,” etc. Irregardless of the term used to describe them, there appears to be a general misconception as to how they were acquired, their purpose and dedication, and their disposition.

Gordon Trombley, Land Commissioner

Different Land Managers Have Different Missions

If you’ve lived in the west, you’ve likely heard land managed by the United States Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management described as “land of many uses.” Endowment land is different. As required by Idaho’s constitution, it must be used to generate the maximum long-term financial return to the beneficiaries to which it was granted. Endowment land is also different from Idaho’s public trust land (i.e. the beds of navigable waterways), and as such, it is exempted from the Public Trust Doctrine by Idaho Code.

For endowment land, any use besides generating revenue is secondary because the Land Board, in its capacity as a trustee, must act with undivided loyalty in the interest of the beneficiary. To help illustrate how endowment land is different, here’s a comparison of the missions of government land managers with significant acreage in Idaho:

Idaho Department of Lands: To secure the maximum long-term financial return for the beneficiaries to which the endowment land was granted.
United States Forest Service: To sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.
Bureau of Land Management: To sustain the health, diversity and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.
Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation: To improve the quality of life in Idaho through outdoor recreation and resource stewardship.

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