SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


By Myla Poelstra


April 14, 2010

During recent discussions and debate across Southeast Alaska over the merits of Sealaska's Land Bills, many issues and concerns have come to light. While efforts have been made by Senator Murkowski's staff to address region wide opposition, cited by testimony given at Town Hall meetings of over 75%, many problems remain and more questions are being asked about a proposal to take highly valued public lands out of forest service management domain and place them into the hands of a private corporation known for it's egregious logging practices.

One of the most stunning revelations recently reaching the public's ears came from testimony given during congressional hearings on HR.2099, held on March 17, 2010 in Washington, DC. Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture Jay Jensen cited in his closing remarks a previously undisclosed fact; Sealaska has had it's priority selections necessary for completion of their entitlements due through ANCSA on file since June 10, 2008. These selections were all taken from within designated withdrawal areas. This would clearly indicate an availability of lands appropriate for Sealaska's needs.

According to documents filed with the Bureau of Land Management, Sealaska requested delay of processing these priority selections at the time of their submission. Considering the urgency expressed by Sealaska of their need for expedited access to timber crucial for supporting their logging enterprises, it makes no sense for them to have asked for this delay. Conveyance has evidently been postponed pending outcome of this current legislation.

To the average American citizen, this request for postponement appears unjustified, and looks to be an effort to leverage access to areas of high value, well developed public lands never intended to be available for consideration. Sealaska has created their own resource crises by choosing to pursue unnecessary congressional legislation outside of normal public process in a questionable attempt to gain an unprecedented prize for their corporation.

In the interests of neighborly relations, why would Sealaska put the rest of the region through so much stress and strife when the easiest and most ethical path for them to take would have been to move quickly to complete their entitlements under ANCSA law already in place.

As a lay person reading S.1466 - the Land Transfer Acceleration Act as it was signed into law, it appears these selections, mandated to be on file no later than 42 months after the December 10, 2004 passage of this act, once submitted, may not be revoked, rescinded, or modified by the Native Corporation. Assuming this is correct as read, how could legislation then be introduced in April of 2009 asking Congress to allow out of withdrawal area selections?

Why would our congressional delegation be willing to sponsor such an unwarranted proposal? ANCSA established the areas available to Sealaska for economic opportunity, and in doing so defined unappropriated areas which have now become part of the Tongass Land Management Plan. The purpose served here was to provide a lawful vehicle for development of both Native and remaining State and Federal lands. Suggesting change to those boundaries 39 years after being passed into law seems indefensible and unconscionable.

A more logical path at this time would be for Congress to dismiss this unnecessary request for amendment, and instead prompt Sealaska to immediately move forward with conveyance of its priority entitlement selections already on file. This would allow the rest of Southeast Alaska to resume with developing an economy which has been transitioning for well over a decade. The forest service could then move forward with it's plan to provide sustainable timber to small operators in the region, adding further economic opportunity and support to Prince of Wales communities that have depended on their presence for decades.

The American public deserves answers to these questions. Will our congressional delegation come forward and address them? The large majority of Southeast Alaska currently standing in opposition is eager for their response.

Myla Poelstra
Edna Bay, AK

About: "Owner, Sunrise Lodge & General Store; Chairman, Sealaska Response Committee, Edna Bay Community"

Received April 14, 2010 - Published April 14, 2010



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