Land Grant Initiative
The University of Alaska (UA) is a land-grant institution that was formally established by the Alaska Territorial Legislature as the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines in 1917. As a land-grant institution, the UA was due to receive federal lands within Alaska as a way of providing long-term stable funding for public higher education. However, the UA only received about 150,000 acres of its approximately 500,000-acre entitlement and continues to operate with a substantial deficit ever since (click here for more information on that deficit and the history of UA's land grants).
This deficit has long been seen as an issue with the Alaska Statehood Act. When drafting the Alaska Statehood Act, Congress incorporated the UA's remaining land entitlement into the approximately 105,000,000 acres of lands granted to the State of Alaska (State; click here for more information on statehood entitlement) with the intent that the Alaska Legislature would complete the UA's entitlement. Unfortunately, complicated legal matters prevented the State from conveying additional lands from of the State's entitlement to the UA. The last attempt by the State to complete the UA's entitlement was struck down by the Alaska Supreme Court on a constitutionality issue. Since all State remedies were exhausted, a federal solution was required.
2022 Land Grant Initiative
The first step towards remedying the UA's land grant deficit was securing a way, consistent with the Alaska Constitution, for the State and Federal Governments to fulfill the Alaska Statehood Act commitment to provide UA with the rest of its land grant. Thanks to the incredible work of Alaska's Congressional Delegation, and in particular Senator Lisa Murkowski, a federal bill was drafted that provides a mechanism for the U.S. to convey lands from Alaska's remaining statehood entitlement to the UA. This bill, previously titled the University of Alaska Fiscal Foundation Act, was incorporated into an end-of-2022 omnibus appropriations bill that was signed into law by President Biden (Click here to view information about this law). This law provides the UA four years to:
- Identify and select 500,000 acres of State valid or top-filed general selection lands;
- Secure concurrence on its selections from the State.
The law also directs the Secretary of the Interior to convey up to 360,000 acres of the UA's 500,000 acres of selections; however, the law does not dictate when the lands are to be conveyed.
Remedying the UA's Land Grant Deficit
Now that a federal mechanism which promises to remedy the UA's land grant deficit is in place, the UA must select 500,000 acres of land from the State's remaining general selections. This The selection process is complex - requiring thorough research of State and Federal records - but can be generalized into the following four steps.
- UA Land Management (UALM) researches and identifies remaining State general selections;
- UALM seeks concurrence for identified lands from state government;
- UALM submits list of identified lands to Division of Mining, Land and Water (DMLW), DNR;
- DMLW adjudicates identified lands for potential concurrence issues;
- DMLW solicits public comment on the identified lands;
- DMLW and UALM agree on selection;
- Selection and State concurrence forwarded to federal government;
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM) adjudicates the selection in preparation for conveyance to UA;
- If the selection is already surveyed, then BLM may directly issue a Patent;
- If the selection needs surveyed, then the BLM may issue a Tentative Approval;
- Tentative Approvals will be followed up by a Patent once the selection is surveyed.
UALM is currently working to identify 500,000 acres of lands and secure State concurrence before the December 29, 2026 selection deadline. Although UA will select 500,000 acres, UA can only recieve 360,000 acres from the Secretary of the Interior. This idea of selecting additional lands over the total amount of what can actually be conveyed is called over selecting. It is important for UA to over select so that UA can ensure it will recieve the total 360,000 acres of lands even if some of its selections cannot be conveyed. It is hard to know when the first conveyance of land from the 2022 Land Grant Initiative will occur, but it will likely take several years following this deadline.