Once Upon a Time...
By Carol Cairnes
March 31, 2010
It is fitting that Senator
Murkowski started her March 24th Viewpoint with "Once Upon
a Time" in classic fairy-tale style. Her version of
the facts is a fantastic fiction. The Senator is living
in a dream world if she believes Senate bill 881 will revive
Southeast Alaska's economy. The bill, and a similar House
bill, 2099, allows Sealaska Corporation to trade the land it
is entitled to by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act for
publicly owned land in the Tongass National Forest, along with
roads and log transfer facilities paid for by American taxpayers.
The deal the Senator envisions for Sealaska Corporation would
give the corporation ownership of timber and other valuable resources
currently owned by all American citizens under the false claim
of aboriginal rights.
Could it be that Senator Murkowski is unfamiliar with Sealaska
Timber Corporation's business practices? Sealaska is in
the timber liquidation and export business. During the
last 40 years Sealaska has harvested and exported high-value
timber off the 291,000 acres of land that has been conveyed to
it so far. That's over 450 square miles of timber and Southeast's
economy still struggles. Sealaska reports it has another
2 years supply, at the rate it extracts timber from its land
that will offer entry-level logging jobs in a fading industry.
Sealaska has taken millions of dollars from its land and yet
has failed to diversify the economy of Southeast Alaska in any
meaningful way. There is no indication it has attracted
outside investment or young professionals. If she understood
the facts, the Senator would be holding Sealaska responsible
for the economic problems of Southeast Alaska, not trying to
bail it out with a taxpayer give away.
The conveyance of land to Sealaska Corporation under ANCSA remains
unresolved at Sealaska's request. Sealaska asked the Bureau
of Land Management to hold off conveying the land it has selected
while Senator Murkowski and the rest of the Alaska delegation
push legislation to benefit the corporation. Since 2004
failed attempts at legislation to transfer public lands outside
the withdrawal boundaries of ANCSA to Sealaska Corporation, the
region's largest private landowner has left the residents and
businesses of the northern Prince of Wales Archipelago in limbo.
There are state-established town sites whose ability to grow
and build their communities is stifled by the threat that their
access through what are now public land may be cut off; that
the National Forest they rely on for subsistence food might become
private corporation land; that the treasured forest their lodge
guests come to enjoy could be clear-cut logged from alpine edge
to beach front; that the spawning grounds they depend on for
their commercial catch remain at risk.
Only 4% of the ANCSA entitlements remain to be conveyed and the
only thing that is delaying Sealaska getting title to its remaining
lands are 2 pieces of pending legislation, S. 881 and H.R. 2099.
As soon as these bills are killed the land Sealaska has selected
can be conveyed to the corporation and the people at these town
sites can get on with their own economic development plans.
Received March 30, 2009 - Published
March 31, 2010
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