SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Open Letter: Revised Sealaska Lands Bill
By Jeffrey Sbonek


March 09, 2013
Saturday PM

March 6, 2013
To: Sen. Ron Wyden chair, all members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

RE: S-340, Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Job Protection Act, and S-14

My name is Jeff Sbonek and I have lived in Port Protection Alaska, a rural, isolated community on the north end of Prince of Wales Island for the past 37 years. Seeing Sen. Murkowski s and Sealaska s recent press announcement of the new Sealaska proposed legislation I see that it is a reiteration of the same lies of their past legislative attempts. Lies in a perverted attempt to sway congressional and public support.

They claim that Sealaska has been deprived of finalization of their entitlement lands, that it has been withheld from them, that the promise of ANCSA has never been fulfilled . But the truth is that they have had finalization available to them since the creation of ANCSA over 40 years ago, and have had a selection filed with BLM for over 5 years which has been on hold while they try to milk a sweeter deal, to select lands outside of the designated box , to cherry pick the best of the best. They claim that the original in the box selection areas were severely restricted, but they fail to mention that they were principle participants in the establishment of the original in the box areas. No legislation is or ever has been necessary for finalization.

They claim this new bill protects jobs, also untrue. The timber industry of the past was a failed industry in spite of massive government subsidy. The economy of the region has been successfully transitioning away from this failed industry. Commercial fishing, tourism, recreation, and subsistence are by far the backbone of the economy of the region, all of which are dependent on a healthy ecosystem. This bill undermines the economy of the region, not enhances it. This bill would give away many millions of dollars of taxpayer paid for infrastructure. Sealaska would be creating far more jobs if were required to take it s in the box selection of lands, creating it s own infrastructure; surveying, road building, etc.

They claim this bill would be trading highly environmentally sensitive lands in the box for less environmentally sensitive lands out of the box , and minimizing impact on old growth timber stands, also untrue. Sealaska s proposed selections in this bill target 12 times more highest volume, largest tree, mature old growth forest than their in the box selections! There is only .5% of this class timber left in all of the Tongass National Forest. This bill would eliminate a substantial portion of this remaining high volume timber class. ( High Grading of Timber in the Tongass National Forest; Impact of Pending Land Selections on Forest Diversity Audubon Alaska, 2011) Congress passed legislation in 1990 called the Tongass Timber Reform Act to end this high grading of timber.

They claim this bill irons out all the problems and concerns from previous attempts at this legislation, also not true. This proposed legislation continues to be a divisive, corrupt corporate land grab attempt with continued large scale, strong opposition from across the region; the commercial fishing industry, tourism industry, recreation industry, sportsman, hunting, guiding industry, small villages and communities affected, small timber operators, subsistence users, conservation groups and interests, USFS, former top AK Dept. of Fish & Game officials, and many Sealaska share holders.

This bill would be an unprecedented giveaway of highly important and valuable public lands to private corporate ownership for economic exploitation, private profit at the expense of a huge cross section of public concerns and interests. The original in the box selection areas were created, at the request of Sealaska, around the existing native communities, as they should be. Now they want to leave the areas around these native communities intact and instead select lands that radically impact other communities and areas. Why should these other communities, including Port Protection, have to bear the effects of these selections?

The old growth forest reserves heavily targeted by this bill are some of the most bio-diverse and bio-productive lands in all of the Tongass National Forest; vital wildlife habitat areas, vital winter habitat for deer, vital habitat for salmon productivity. And these in turn are vital to all who depend on and care about these areas; all those opposed to this legislation. It is important that congress understands that Alaska is radically different than the rest of the conventional 48 states. We have our few urban areas that are more like the conventional 48 states, but there is a vast portion of Alaska that is rural, rural in a different sense than the rest of rural America. In this rurality there is both an intimacy with and a dependency on the land, the wildness, and the wildlife around us. For most of us in these rural isolated villages, there is no such thing as driving to the local supermarket. We depend heavily on the integrity of the lands and waters around us. There are long periods when winter storms roll in and mail and supply planes are few and far between. We rely on the fish and meat from the landscape around us. In SE Alaska these old growth reserves are vital to our ability to continue our subsistence way of life. Does congress have a grasp of how small 100 is? A 100 buffer strip along a salmon stream is ridiculous! A buffer strip of any size does not protect or preserve a watershed. Whole watersheds need to be preserved. Do you realize how long such a buffer strip would even last? In winter storms in SE Alaska it s common for 50, 60, 70 knot winds, winds occasionally exceed 100 knots! It s ridiculous for proponents of this bill to even suggest that a buffer strip protects the integrity of a salmon stream. For we here in Port Protection, Calder Bay, one of this bills proposed selection areas, is vital to our subsistence. It s a prominent karst area. It is well documented by numerous studies that karst is conducive to a significantly greater productivity of wildlife and habitat. Calder Bay is a highly productive salmon watershed and hosts a high volume old growth forest, vital winter habitat for deer and other wildlife. Studies have also documented that once karst has been logged, it is especially slow to, or may never recover. Our community has worked in good faith for decades participating in the land management process for the north end of Prince of Wales Island to preserve the old growth forest reserves, vital to our subsistence. We ve written countless letters, attended many meetings in regional towns, and held meetings with USFS officials in our community. Passage of this bill would strip away decades of work and hard won protections for old growth forest reserves vital to our subsistence community.

Passage of this bill would be extremely detrimental to the vitality of SE Alaska; the economic vitality, the environmental vitality, and the vitality of the communities within the region, and it would be solely for the gain of one ruthless, private, corrupt, immoral, unethical corporate entity and corrupt congressional delegates. For the benefit of the long term vitality and the greatest public interest of SE Alaska, please do not let this bill pass out of committee. Reject S-340. PUBLIC LANDS SHOULD REMAIN PUBLIC LANDS.


Jeffrey Sbonek
Port Protection, AK

About: "I have lived a subsistence lifestyle in Port Protection Alaska for 37 years."

Received March 08, 2013 - Published March 09, 2013




Viewpoints - Opinion Letters:

letter Webmail Your Opinion Letter to the Editor



Representations of fact and opinions in letters are solely those of the author.
The opinions of the author do not represent the opinions of Sitnews.


E-mail your letters & opinions to
Your full name, city and state are required for letter publication.

SitNews ©2013
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska