SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


By Eric Muench


March 29, 2010

Much of Senator Lisa Murkowski's opinion is quite true, but her promotion for Senate Bill 881 left out so much of the other side of the story that it could almost have been written by Sealaska Corporation.

It would be good to finally complete the Sealaska conveyance process. But the reason it has not happened yet is Sealaska s failure to complete their selections. In spite of much area within their original selection boxes being salt water, they still had plenty of land acreage from which to select the total. And the sparing of locally valued old growth in the original areas by means of this bill simply transfers the impact to other communities. The fact is that Sealaska would prefer to select timberland on Prince of Wales Island where timber size and quality is generally better.

From their own economic standpoint that makes sense, but the effect on regional timber economics is harder to gauge. Having timber land in private hands guarantees that harvest can occur and benefit the logging and construction portion of the economy, as opposed to the endless delay and uncertainty of the ridiculous federal NEPA free-for-all legal circus. But private harvest will almost undoubtedly result in almost all of it going to export, which will starve the Alaska sawmill industry, as opposed to Forest Service timber sales with local manufacture requirements.

Outside large Economic Development areas, those troubling cherry-picks of well over 250 other sites all over southeast Alaska did not receive a mention by Lisa. There is great concern that it will create choke points of corporate ownership to control use in the surrounding national forest acres. How are we to judge the impact of those sites? No good maps of Sealaska s choices are available only very small scale maps impossible to read in any detail. In my conversation with Senate Energy and Natural Resources staff professional Chuck Kleeshulte, he graciously offered to mail me the entire packet of detail maps but said they cannot be made more widely available via the government website because the volume of detail crashes the website. So general public availability is impossible. Having studied a few of the Attachment B site detail maps, I believe wider public access to them could actually defuse some of the land-grab fears. This is no way to conduct the public s business.

Worse yet, the bill's language promises another 1200 acres of future selections at presently unknown sites, prolonging the final settlement that all sides claim to desire.

Based on recent public testimony and concerns I would suggest several changes to the bill that could make it less onerous to many people. First, provide the detail maps of the Attachment B and C (sacred, historic, etc.) sites or better yet, leave ownership in national forest where the Forest Service is directed in the Standards and Guidelines section of the Tongass Land Management Plan (Heritage Resources Sacred Sites) to keep confidential and to protect these sites together with Native participation. (See TLMP Final Plan Chap. 4, pgs. 4-19 to 4-21.) This would resolve some concerns of wider land control by Sealaska. Second, eliminate the Attachment D (futures) sites that give over control of potential commercial uses on 50 public land areas to a single private corporation. Third, spell out in clear and unambiguous language the public s right to road, trail and general land use on Economic Development lands for non-commercial purposes. These are now clouded by weasel words that appear to give and take away at the same time. And finally, place some reasonable non-export provisions on timber harvest as a trade for out-of-the-box selections.

Lisa Murkowski, Nick Begich and Don Young should be willing to make this proposal less divisive for Alaskans.

Eric Muench
Ketchikan, AK

About:I am a long term resident of Southeast. I have an interest in seeing the timber industry prosper and want an open honest airing of the bill to ensure valuable public places remain public.

Received March 25, 2009 - Published March 29, 2010


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