State lands have produced $5.4 billion since 1970 for the benefit of public schools and other institutions, according to a first-ever comprehensive report on the assets.
Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher ordered the report to help government officials plan for future management of the forests, farm lands and underwater properties located in all 39 counties.
The so-called state trust lands have recreational and commercial value.
“What do we do for the next 50 years to ensure they are productive?” Belcher said in an interview before releasing the report Friday to the Eastern Washington University trustees.
EWU and the state’s other regional universities have received $173 million from the state lands to pay for campus buildings since 1970, the report said. Most of that money is from timber sales.
When Washington became a state in 1889, it was granted 3.2 million acres from the federal government to establish and maintain institutions such as schools and prison.
The state now owns about 5 million acres of trust lands, which are managed by the state Department of Natural Resources to support themselves and make money for the state. In fiscal 1996, they made $309 million, the report said.
The extent of the lands ranges from 302,000 acres in Okanogan County to 1,900 acres in Island County. The report found that since 1970:
Almost half the $5.4 billion generated by the lands went to the Common School trust, which pays for construction of public schools.
The University Trust, which generates income for the University of Washington, got $219 million.
Washington State University got $189 million from two trusts.
The Capitol Building Trust received $145 million to pay for building improvements at the Capitol campus in Olympia.
State prisons and charities got $86 million from trust lands.
The DNR has built 141 trail heads and campgrounds and 400 miles of trails on 3,300 acres.
In the last legislative session, Belcher was critical of Republican efforts to sell some state-owned forest and tidelands.
Opponents said some counties are rightfully unhappy with Belcher’s management of timberlands the counties once controlled, and they want the land back.
The report said Washington’s population is expected to double in the next 50 years, with a resulting need for more schools and other institutions, increasing pressure to produce more revenue from state lands.
That has sparked debate on whether to sell some lands and put the money in higher-yielding investments, Belcher said.
But the report demonstrates that keeping the lands is more valuable than selling them, she said.
“We are preparing ourselves for that battle,” she said.