SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Once Upon a Time...
By Carol Cairnes


March 31, 2010

Editor: Sitnews

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. 
Carol Cairnes
Ketchikan, AK

Received March 30, 2009 - Published March 31, 2010


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