Sealaska Lands Bill Revised
February 15, 2013
The revised Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act establishes where and how Sealaska may select 70,075 acres of land owed to it under ANCSA. The legislation is cosponsored by Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska).
“It has taken years of negotiating with stakeholders and listening to public concerns to reach this point, but I believe the revisions have resulted in a stronger bill,” Murkowski said. “This legislation will finally deliver on the promise the federal government made to Southeast Alaska Natives in 1971. At the same time, it ensures continued public access to the lands Sealaska selects. That is unprecedented.”
The bill is designed to steer Sealaska’s timber harvesting activities toward second-growth timber, areas that already contain roads and existing timber infrastructure, and minimize impact on old-growth timber stands.
According to Murkowski, in all, Sealaska would receive about 68,400 acres of land for timber development, about 1,099 acres for other economic development projects, such as hydroelectric generation and marine hydrokinetic activity, and tourism near the communities of Yakutat, Kake and Hydaburg.
The bill places 152,000 acres in national conservation areas to further protect old growth and important aquatic resources.
The legislation also provides Sealaska with selection rights to 490 acres to protect Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian traditional burial and historically significant land parcels.
“We took great care to fulfill the promises made to Sealaska shareholders, while at the same time addressing the concerns of all Southeast residents who utilize the Tongass for everything from subsistence to fisheries to recreation,” Murkowski said.
The revised bill removes some 26,000 acres of land selections on northern Prince of Wales Island. Language has also been added to create buffers along key fisheries and anchorage areas for fishermen, and addresses the U.S. Forest Service’s request to retain lands deemed important for its transition to focus on young-growth timber transition strategy in the Tongass.
“It has taken years to work through the many concerns about this bill. This is truly a compromise. But it finally gets Sealaska its lands and protects fisheries and wildlife,” Murkowski said.
According to Sealaska, the bill will convey approximately 70,000 acres to Sealaska, partially addressing the inequity of severely restricted withdrawal areas under the original act. The bill permits Sealaska to select economic lands, small parcels, and cemetery sites and historical places that support the cultural, social, and economic welfare of Alaska Native people, as ANCSA intended.
Sealaska was established to ensure economic and cultural vitality for Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people. “Sealaska is measured by more than economic success,” said Sealaska President and CEO Chris E. McNeil Jr. “From a village perspective, we must find solutions to extremely high energy costs. This bill will provide a small foundation to resolve the grinding energy problems that face every village resident and start to tear down a barrier to sustainable village economies. Just as important is the health and vitality of Southeast Native culture. We have included important cultural and historic sites in Sealaska’s land selections under the bill. The sites represent our strong tie to the land but ensure that future generations will continue to have the opportunity to learn from the past.”
This legislation finalizes a congressional commitment dating back to 1971 to Southeast Natives. “At its core, the legislation represents a negotiated agreement for Native people,” said Rosita Worl, Sealaska board vice chair. “Sealaska is not receiving one acre more than what was promised, but rather establishes where Sealaska may select its remaining lands. Once Sealaska’s settlement is finalized, Sealaska ownership of aboriginal lands will only equal 1.5 percent of our historic Native homelands in the Southeast region.”
Sealaska has partnered with the Obama Administration, the Alaska Delegation, rural and urban communities, the business community, tribal entities, environmental organizations and numerous other interest groups to develop a comprehensive solution to issues facing the region, according to Sealaska Board Chair Albert Kookesh.
Kookesh said,“By moving away from roadless old-growth areas and important municipal watersheds, we are confident that the bill addresses numerous local, regional and national concerns.” He said, “The bill now includes 150,000 acres of new conservation lands, including 94,000 acres requested by Trout Unlimited. While a higher number of acres will be placed into conservation than what is actually being conveyed to Southeast Natives, Sealaska strives to work with others on sustainable solutions for place that is home to us all.”
Legislation highlights outlined by Sealaska include:
Congress approved ANCSA nearly four decades ago to settle the aboriginal land claims of Alaska Natives. Under a complicated land conveyance formula, Sealaska was entitled to roughly 375,000 acres of the 16.9-million acre Tongass National Forest to help improve the livelihoods of their 20,000 shareholders. That promise has never been fulfilled.
In contrast to every other Alaska Native corporation, Sealaska’s original selection areas were limited because much of Southeast Alaska was under contract to the pulp mills and unavailable when ANCSA passed. While there are 327,000 acres in those original areas still available for selection, 44 percent of that is under water and much of the rest is in village watersheds.
Of the 112,000 acres of old-growth timber still available within those areas, 61,000 acres are in old-growth reserves – areas considered unacceptable for development on environmental grounds – and much of the land is located in the 277,000 acres currently designated as “roadless” areas by the U.S. Forest Service.
Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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