SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Sealaska lands bill
By U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski


April 21, 2010

In a letter concerning the Sealaska lands bill printed on April 14, an Edna Bay resident stated that it was "stunning" that Sealaska had already filed for lands to complete its entitlement under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), as if the matter of filing for lands meant that the current bill is not needed to complete rational land conveyances due Sealaska's 20,000 Alaska Native shareholders. That is not the case.

In 2004, Congress passed the Alaska Land Transfer Acceleration Act to speed up the tardy conveyance process. The act required the state and all Alaska Native corporations to file for their remaining land entitlements by the middle of 2008, or forever lose the right to select their remaining lands. Sealaska -
which has selected and received 290,000 acres from inside existing selection boxes around 10 Southeast communities - accordingly filed on lands within its current selection boundaries before the deadline.

White that action was necessary to preserve Sealaska's right to gain its full land entitlement, most of the lands that were left for them to select were either not legally available for conveyance or would create far greater public controversy and environmental concerns. Virtually all of the land Sealaska has legal right to select today would conflict with important fisheries watersheds, community watersheds and old growth roadless areas of great value to local communities.

Sealaska's in-the-box selections include the Situk River corridor, the watersheds of Craig, Klawock and Hoonah, land inside Saxman, and lands around Eek Lake near Hydaburg - lands vital to the Southeast fishing industry. Much of this land is also classified as old growth reserves by the U.S. Forest Service to protect fisheries and wildlife.

It would make no sense environmentally for Sealaska to develop most of the remaining lands ANCSA is forcing them to select. Development is actually impossible in many of those areas. For example, the Situk River watershed near Yakutat, which is encumbered by a legal requirement that would force Sealaska to exchange the land for land elsewhere in the Tongass. This would put Sealaska in the same position that it's in today, and necessitate additional legislation to resolve the outstanding entitlement for the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian shareholders of Sealaska.

The current lands bill seeks to resolve this problem by finding less environmentally sensitive lands to convey. Under the current proposal, Sealaska would receive 39,000 fewer acres of old growth timber than it might otherwise be able to select. The bill also protects almost all of the original selection areas for future public use. And it tries to rationally resolve the inequity caused when Sealaska was the only Alaska Native corporation prevented from selecting lands from a great portion of its region due to the long-term pulp mill contracts that were in effect at the time.

The Sealaska bill affects just three-tenths of a percent of the Tongass National Forest. But given the fact that the entire forest is precious to all of us, I understand the concerns that have been raised and I continue to work to resolve as many of those issues as possible. I appreciate the courtesy extended to my staff when they visited the region to listen and record the statements from local residents. With your valued input, we continue to seek a reasonable solution.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski

Received April 20, 2010 - Published April 21, 2010


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Ketchikan, Alaska