Text Size minus sign plus sign

Overview of School Trust Lands

By the Enabling Act approved February 22, 1889, the Congress of the United States granted to the State of Montana, for common school support, sections sixteen and thirty-six in every township within the state. Some of these sections had been homesteaded, some were within the boundaries of Indian reservations, and yet others had been otherwise disposed of before passage of the Enabling Act. To make up for this loss, and in lieu thereof, other lands were selected by the State of Montana.

State of Montana Land Ownership Map

The Enabling Act and subsequent acts also granted acreage for other educational and state institutions, in addition to the common schools. The original common school grant was for 5,188,000 acres. The additional acreage provided for other endowed institutions included 668,720 acres, for a total of 5,856,720 acres. The total acreage figure fluctuates through the years due to land sales and acquisitions. Mineral acreage now exceeds surface acreage because the mineral estate has been retained when lands are sold. Surface acreage at the end of FY 2013 totals over 5.1 million acres; mineral acreage exceeds 6.2 million acres.

The Enabling Act provided that proceeds from the sale and permanent disposition of any of the trust lands, or part thereof, shall constitute permanent funds for the support and maintenance of the public schools and the various state institutions for which the lands had been granted. The Montana Constitution provides that these permanent funds shall forever remain inviolate, guaranteed by the State of Montana against loss or diversion.

The Enabling Act further provided that rentals received on leased lands, interest earned on the permanent funds arising from these lands, interest earned on deferred payments on lands sold, and all other actual income shall be available for the maintenance and support of such schools and institutions.

Each section of state trust land is assigned to a specific trust. Distribution of revenues is handled in different ways depending on the section of trust land that generated the revenue.

The trust beneficiaries are as follows:

The Trust Land Management Division administers land for some other state agencies, in addition to state trust land. Revenue generated from that land is transferred directly to the state agency.

The purpose of the Trust Land Management Division is to administer and manage the state trust timber, surface, and mineral resources for the benefit of the common schools and the other endowed institutions in Montana, under the direction of the State Board of Land Commissioners. The board consists of Montana's top elected officials:


Governor Steve Bullock
Attorney General Tim Fox
Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Monica Lindeen
Secretary of State Linda McCulloch
Superintendant of Public Instruction Denise Juneau
Land Board Secretary Lucy Richards

E-mail the Land Board

The division is divided into four bureaus: Agriculture and Grazing Management, Forest Management, Minerals Management, and Real Estate Management.

The department's obligation is to obtain the greatest benefit for the school trusts. The greatest monetary return must be weighed against the long-term productivity of the land to ensure continued future returns to the trusts.


Dept. of Natural Resources & Conservation
1625 Eleventh Ave.
Helena, MT 59601
Phone: (406) 444-2074
Fax: (406) 444-2684