The Arizona State Land Department was established by Laws 1915, Second Special Session, Chapter 5. Provisions governing the Department are found in the Arizona State Constitution, Article X; Enabling Act, Sections 24 through 30; and in A.R.S. §§37-101 et seq.
The Arizona State Land Department manages approximately 9.2 million acres of state trust lands which were granted to the state at statehood. These lands are held in trust and managed for the sole purpose of generating revenue for the 13 state trust land beneficiaries, the largest of which are the Common Schools (K-12). The Department administers laws relating to state land (both trust land and sovereign land) and controls those lands as well as the products of the land. The Department also manages and supports resource conservation programs for the well-being of the public and the State’s natural environment.
The Department is not a regulatory agency, but is the trustee of the state’s trust land and its natural resources. The trust status of the land imposes obligations and constraints that would not apply if the state held the land outright. The management of the trust is governed by detailed provisions of the Enabling Act, the Arizona Constitution, Arizona Revised Statutes and extensive case law. Those documents provide a regulatory framework that applies to sale and leases of trust land, rights of way across trust land, and sale and removal of mineral material from trust land.
Monies generated from state trust lands are deposited into the Permanent Fund, managed by the Arizona State Treasurer. Distributions from the Permanent Fund to the named beneficiaries are based on a constitutional formula. Some of the revenue generated by the Department is distributed to beneficiaries as expendable revenue, which includes revenue from trust land leases and permits, interest from sales contracts and the Treasurer’s formula distribution of the Permanent Fund. Expendable revenues are distributed directly to the beneficiaries based on a constitutional formula.
The trust beneficiaries are: Common Schools (K-12); University Land Code; University of Arizona (Act of 2/18/1881); Miner’s Hospital; Schools for the Deaf and the Blind; State Charitable, Penal and Reformatory Institutions; Penitentiaries; State Hospital Grant; Normal Schools; School of Mines; Military Institutes; Agricultural and Mechanical Colleges; and Legislative, Executive and Judiciary Buildings. (Arizona State Land Department website)
The State Land Commissioner is appointed by the Governor.
Congress established the Arizona Territory in 1863 and in 1910 the Enabling Act was adopted. Four sections of land from each township were dedicated for specified purposes and those lands were required to be held in trust for certain named beneficiaries.
The State Land Code, adopted in 1915, established the Arizona State Land Department and created the office of the Commissioner of State Lands to manage the trust lands and resources for the beneficiaries according to the mandates of the federal Enabling Act and the Arizona Constitution. Initial duties of the Commissioner included selecting trust lands and securing title to those lands.
In 1943 the duties of the State Water Commissioner (first established in 1919) were transferred to the State Land Department. Duties included general control and supervision of the waters of the state, including its appropriation and distribution; authority to survey, investigate and compile water resources in the state and to make cooperative arrangements for those purposes with the federal government; and to “establish a permanent, safe and convenient public depository in the State Capitol building for existing and future records of stream flow and all other data relating to the water resources of the state.” See Laws 1943, Chapter 28.
In 1971, these duties were transferred from the State Land Department to the Arizona Water Commission (Laws 1971, Chapter 49). In 1980, the Arizona Department of Water Resources was created and assumed the responsibilities of the Arizona Water Commission (Laws 1980, Fourth Special Session, Chapter 1).
The State Land Commissioner also succeeded to the powers and duties previously under the jurisdiction of the Arizona Land Settlement Commission (formerly known as the Soldier Settlement Board). The Soldier Settlement Board, composed of the members and officers of the State Land Department, was established in 1919 to acquire land suitable for reclamation and settlement in order to provide employment and rural homes for honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. armed forces. In 1943 the jurisdiction, authority and duties of the Arizona Land Settlement Commission were transferred to the State Land Department. See Laws 1919, Chapter 141; Laws 1921 Chapter 58; Laws 1943, Chapter 28; and the state agency history of the Soldier Settlement Board in this collection for more information.
Laws 1966, Chapter 20 established the office and responsibilities of the State Forester and allowed the State Land Commissioner to either serve concurrently as the State Forester or to appoint a person to the position. Legislation adopted in 2004 eliminated the option and required the Governor to appoint a State Forester. In 2012 the State Forester was required to develop a comprehensive plan for deploying state resources for wildfire suppression. In 2016, the State Fire Marshal was placed under the authority and direction of the State Forester and the office was statutorily reorganized as the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management. See Laws 2004, Chapter 326; Laws 2012, Chapter 135; Laws 2016, Chapter 128 and the state agency history of the State Forester in this collection for more information.
Laws 1981, First Special Session, Chapter 1 addressed management and development of urban lands in order to encourage “development of urban state lands where growth is appropriate and development is imminent… to encourage infill… and discourage urban sprawl and leapfrog development of state lands.” (Legislative Purpose)
Laws 2012, Chapter 278 revised State Land Department statutes to allow exchanges of trust lands for other public land located in the same county. The exchange must be made to either improve land management or to preserve and protect military facilities in the state; is subject to specific conditions and limitations; and requires legislative and voter approval. The revisions were conditionally enacted, subject to voter approval of a constitutional amendment to authorize exchanges of trust land at the November 2012 general election. The voters approved the measure on November 6, 2012 (Proposition 119). Note: Several ballot measures were proposed in previous years (2002, 2004, 2006) to allow exchanges of state trust land and were unsuccessful.
Laws 2019, Chapter 146 transfers title to specified state sovereign land (approximately 12 acres) to Bullhead City for public recreation, access to and enjoyment of the Colorado River. Prohibits Bullhead City from selling, exchanging or bartering the land. If the land, or any revenue derived from use of the land, ceases to be held or managed for the public trust, the land shall immediately and automatically revert to the state.
- Arizona State Constitution (Article X) and Arizona Enabling Act (Sections 24-30)
- Arizona Revised Statutes §§37-101 et seq.
- Session Laws
- Laws 1915, Second Special Session, Chapter 5
- Laws 1919, Chapter 141
- Laws 1921, Chapter 58
- Laws 1943, Chapter 28
- Laws 1966, Chapter 20
- Laws 1971, Chapter 49
- Laws 1980, Fourth Special Session, Chapter 1
- Laws 1981, First Special Session, Chapter 1
- Laws 2002, Chapter 287
- Laws 2004, Chapter 326
- Laws 2012, Chapter 135
- Laws 2016, Chapter 128
- Laws 2017, Chapter 247
- Laws 2019, Chapter 146
Arizona State Land Department website
Historical Election Information, 2002 Election. Arizona Secretary of State website
Arizona's General Election Guide, 2012
Publicity Pamphlet, 2002
Publicity Pamphlet, 2004
Publicity Pamphlet, 2006
Fain Land & Cattle Company v M.J. Hassell, 163 Ariz. 587, 790 P.2d 242 (1990).
Related collections at Arizona State Archives
- Record Group 006 – Secretary of the Territory, 1863-1922. (added)
- Record Group 059 – Land Department (spelled out record group)
- Record Group 195 – State Forestry Division