SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


S.881 is not the solution for Southeast Alaska
By Sandy Powers


April 05, 2010

Community hearings on Senate Bill 881/HR 2099 held in Edna Bay and Point Baker/Port Protection last week reconfirmed that a majority of Southeast Alaskans are opposed to this bill that would give 80,000-some acres of public-owned, roaded National Forest land to Sealaska Corporation. There was unanimous opposition from these three communities, with residents from age 13 to 82 speaking passionately of how their lives and futures would be forever adversely changed by this legislation. Hearings in other communities throughout Southeast were held earlier in the month.

Of the approximately 250 people who testified at these hearings and represented a variety of interests, over 75 percent opposed this bill. Yet Sealaska and the congressional delegation have not publicly acknowledged that most of Southeast Alaska has good reason to be opposed to this bill.

This bill is fundamentally flawed and not good for Southeast Alaska - economically, ethically, or environmentally. Here is why.

Economically, Southeast Alaska and in particular the smaller communities on Prince of Wales and Kosciusko Islands, is a delicate balance of small businesses and working individuals. The limited accessible forest land is critical to sustain small mills, personal use timber, commercial guiding and subsistence hunting, recreation, and the list goes on. Forest Service management of the National Forest is central to maintaining this multiple-use balance, especially as we transition from a primarily old-growth timber-harvest economy to one that includes more second-growth use and restoration.

Unfortunately, Sealaska's land legislation would take a large bite out of this limited roaded forest land which currently supports so many public uses. This will create an unsustainable and unacceptable displacement of those uses to the remaining public land. Less available land means less personal use timber and thus less building, it means fewer guide permits can be sustained, less subsistence habitat means less food, the economy slows, people lose their jobs and have to move away, then critical support services such as schools, grocery stores, phones, and post offices begin to close. When Sealaska states they will create jobs, they fail to mention that they are not creating jobs, so much as taking them from the existing economy, in much the same way that a new Walmart or K-Mart puts local mom-n-pop stores out of business.

Ethically, Sealaska does not tell an accurate story. This bill is not needed to "fulfill a promise to natives". That fulfillment is done under ANCSA as agreed in 1971 and could be completed today under that law. What Sealaska is not disclosing is that they already submitted their final land selections from within the ANCSA selection areas to Bureau of Land Management back in June 2008. Sealaska claims that they are being unfairly delayed from completing their land transfer. The truth is, Sealaska has requested that the BLM wait to finalize their ANCSA conveyance while they try to pass this bill to get roaded public lands instead. Sealaska has said that this legislation merely trades acre for acre of public land for their unlogged ANCSA areas, but they do not explain why they believe they are entitled to millions of dollars worth of taxpayer-funded roads, bridges, and log transfer facilities to go with the acreage. Sealaska has said that their ANCSA areas give them "crap land", yet their own website states that they would be trading "327,000 acres of valuable land" for roaded public land. Sealaska has said they wish to protect land around communities as a reason to not accept their ANCSA selections near Hydaburg and Craig, yet they have not budged on the roaded public land that would cut off Point Baker and Port Protection, and make Edna Bay's back yard a giant clearcut despite those communities' concerns and pleas. In fact, during one gentleman's heartfelt testimony of community concerns at the HR 2099 hearing in Washington, DC, a Sealaska representative was seen repeatedly smirking and rolling her eyes. These misrepresentations and this kind of behavior do not inspire confidence that Sealaska intends to work fairly with communities or individuals at some later date.

Environmentally, Sealaska's past logging practices speak for themselves. Since they do not have to adhere to federal forest protection laws and standards, they can extensively clearcut and export all their round logs, creating fewer jobs but ensuring a greater, more-immediate profit. Huge corporation clearcuts with little or no regeneration for years do not support wildlife and are a scar on the landscape. Since ANCSA, Sealaska has clearcut and exported the logs from 291,000 acres of conveyed timber lands. Now they need more. We have known for years that they would eventually utilize their final ANCSA land selections for this. Therefore, the Forest Service has not logged or developed those areas, but instead invested roads, resource use and protection, and management effort for the public benefit into other National Forest System lands. Unfortunately, bait and switch has taken place as these heavily used, "value-added" areas are now what Sealaska wants to appropriate.

The conservation strategy, land allocations, and protections laid out in the Forest Plan would become moot as Sealaska harvests trees based on timber value, not resource protection or public needs. Of the "economic development selections" targeted on Prince of Wales and Kosciousko Islands, one third of these areas are currently federally protected areas for karst, wildlife, beach buffers, recreation, or research natural areas. The reason there is old growth between existing logged units is to provide resource protection and create a healthy mosaic of forest age classes. These areas would lose that protection under Sealaska ownership. This bill is environmentally adverse to sustainable forest management.

There is only one good solution to this situation that is threatening our communities and pitting neighbor against neighbor. That is for Sealaska to allow the BLM to convey the ANCSA selection areas it has already picked. In addition to expediting the conveyance as Sealaska says they desire, this would leave existing communities intact, leave the Forest Plan and current land management strategies intact, respect communities' concerns, and leave public road and lands fully available for the multiple uses we all currently benefit from. Far from inhibiting economic opportunity, this would also afford Sealaska a golden opportunity to responsibly develop and manage their lands as they claim to want to. Rather than decreasing the available public lands and squeezing small businesses out of existence, they could open up new areas for development. Rather than taking from existing jobs, it could truly create more, new jobs including roadbuilding and construction, and increase the amount of timber available to log. Rather than profiting at the expense of communities, Sealaska could be seen as a good neighbor. In light of the current controversy there is no justifiable reason to continue to pursue this bad legislation. It is in Sealaska's best interest, and the best interest of the economy of Southeast Alaska, to abandon S.881/HR 2099 and to finalize Sealaska's land claims under ANCSA.

Sandy Powers
Ketchikan, AK

About: "35 year resident of Southeast, wanting a truly sustainable economy for everyone here."

Received April 02, 2010 - Published April 05, 2010



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