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The Associated Press April 14, 2010, 10:52AM ET

Aide to ND Gov. Hoeven named as land commissioner

North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven's deputy chief of staff has been hired as the new state land commissioner, a job that includes managing a state schools trust fund with almost $1 billion in assets.

Lance Gaebe said he expected to assume the job this summer after a transition from his current position is worked out. Gaebe handles agricultural, energy, water, emergency management and transportation issues in Hoeven's office.

"I think it's a little-recognized, important role," Gaebe said of the land commissioner's job. "There are a lot of important state assets that are managed, both land and minerals."

Gaebe, 43, will succeed Gary Preszler, who is retiring at the end of this month. Jeff Engleson, director of the agency's investment division, will be interim director until Gaebe begins the job. Gaebe will be paid $96,000 annually.

The Land Department has 22 employees and a two-year budget of $13.8 million.

It leases rights to state-owned land that is used for grazing cattle and producing hay; it also leases rights to produce oil, coal, gravel and other minerals from state property. The agency manages about 650,000 acres of grazing land and 2.5 million acres of mineral rights.

The Land Department also manages a number of state funds, including the Common Schools Trust Fund, which has almost $1 billion in assets and is financed mostly by income from state land and mineral leases.

The fund is expected to distribute $86.3 million to North Dakota's public schools during the 2009-11 budget period, which ends June 30, 2011.

The state Board of University and School Lands oversees the Land Department and hires the commissioner for four-year terms. Gaebe's term will end in June 2013.

Hoeven is chairman of the board. Its other members are Wayne Sanstead, state superintendent of public instruction; state Treasurer Kelly Schmidt; Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem; and Secretary of State Al Jaeger. The board members are Republicans, except for Sanstead, a Democrat.

Gaebe is a native of New Salem, a rural Morton County community about 30 miles west of Bismarck. He holds a bachelor's degree in animal and range science and a master's degree in business administration from North Dakota State University.

He worked for a number of farm groups and as director of the Agricultural Products Utilization Commission, which distributes state aid to agricultural businesses, before joining Hoeven's staff in 2001. He became the governor's deputy chief of staff in June 2007.

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