SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Sealaska lands bill
By Judy Magnuson


April 27, 2010

Senator Murkowski stated not too long ago that the government was the largest land owner in Alaska. I wish to correct that statement. The PUBLIC, not the government, is the largest land owner in Southeast Alaska. We the people, native and nonnative own these lands, we have full use of these lands for any use compatible with public use of these lands. This is not an aboriginal rights issue, it is simply the right of citizens and taxpayers who have added value through their tax dollars, time and energy through their efforts to support, preserve, participate and have a say in the management of public lands. We have the right to retain those lands that belong to us and have cost us dearly during the last 40 years. Public lands, heavily invested in should not be given away to a private corporation in order that only a few may profit from them.

Lands within the designated ANCSA withdrawal areas were set aside 40 years ago just so we would not have to go through this kind of conflict now. How could taking the lands set aside for Sealaska corporation, just for this purpose, when it has been known that this was how these lands were to be used, for all these decades, be any more controversial than trying to take well established and heavily used public lands. Lands made even more valuable, because of the roads that make it accessible and usable by the general public. How could it be more controversial than taking the land that 3 communities depend upon for their subsistence and future integrity of their communities. Whose spring fed water systems source is based within these very lands that the corporation is trying to acquire? When those same communities have worked with the USFS for the past 40 years to help preserve the last bits of old growth forest necessary to maintain healthy habitat for all our subsistence needs. Land used by the public, many who come to this end of the island, especially in fall, to hunt for food to feed their families. How can it not be more controversial to want to clear cut a valuable natural resource, one that is so fragile and sensitive to timber harvest, as the karst resource is. A resource shown to take special management , with at least 300 ft buffers to be wind firm, and in many cases not allowing timber harvest at all. One that has been shown through studies to be critically important to fish habitat . This land selected would impact fish streams along 60 miles of coastline in Sumner Strait from Red Bay to Edna Bay, how would this not be controversial?

Sealaska may not be receiving any more land than they are entitled to. But we are not talking about an equitable trade. A cost analysis of these areas will show that beside the land itself, there are millions of dollars worth of roads, built at up to $1 million dollars a mile, this includes 20 miles of main road and countless secondary roads, bridges and log transfer facilities, and costly environmental cleanup of those same facilities after the timber companies moved out, such as transporting contaminated soil away and disposing of it. Public investment has paid for fixing culverts and maintaining the roads for decades. Tens of thousands of hours of studies by the Forest Service and by volunteer groups have been invested in studying karst with the goal of preserving and protecting the resource for future generations. Decades of planning have been invested on how best to implement multiple use on these public lands- including karst and cave protection, hydrology studies and restoration, and riparian restoration. Studies on Coho salmon streams show the need to protect karst contributing waters to those streams to avoid critical impacts on fisheries. Decades of community participation in meetings, plans and reform acts, participated in by our communities in good faith with the USFS looking towards protecting the future integrity of our area. And the cost and delay of doing a revised Forest Plan if this public land is given to a private corporation.

Sen. Murkowski's statement that the lands within the boxes would conflict with fisheries, watersheds, subsistence and old growth reserves is exactly the same reasons we object to the new selections. If Sealaska can be such good stewards of the land as they and you keep saying that they are, they should stay in the box and practice it there, as they should have done from the beginning. It is not up to us - the taxpayers- to bail out a private corporation because they did not plan for the future.

The promise of access is meaningless. We will lose our right to have any say in these lands that we have helped to preserve over these many decades. The transfer of land from the public domain into private ownership removes the preference for subsistence uses on those lands for the taking of fish and wildlife by rural residents. Subsistence rules change with land ownership, such as rules pertaining to harvest dates for subsistence only hunts on Federal lands. This Bill is in direct violation of ANILCA which protects our subsistence rights from just such a corporate incursion. No one would need access to these lands once they were destroyed. These lands could be sold by Sealaska, turned into a giant open pit mine, what recourse would we have? None.

This Bill will cost more jobs for Southeast Alaska than it will provide. The same number of timber harvest jobs will come from inside the box as outside of it. In all the years of intense harvest that Sealaska has had, harvesting 450 square miles of high value timber, they have failed to diversify the economy of Southeast in any meaningful way. The impacts to other user groups will be devastating. Small businesses rely on the full use of these public lands complete with healthy wildlife habitat- businesses that have already invested with their time and money because they assumed these lands would be available to them for the future. Impacts to hunters and fishermen are inevitable as the habitat needed for sustainable wildlife and fish resources is destroyed, and impacts to the commercial fisheries as well. The road system only makes this area more valuable to hunters for access to healthy deer populations. There is simply no comparison to the access that is not available in the unimproved roadless areas Sealaska wishes to trade to the public in exchange for the value-added lands with the richest biodiversity habitat in Southeast Alaska. Public lands that have been managed by the public, for the public, at our expense, time and effort, should stay with the public-- native and nonnative alike--so that we may all benefit from them as well as our children and grandchildren in the future.

There is no valid reason for not staying in the withdrawal areas that does not hold true for outside of them. There will still be over 100,000 acres of roadless area in the boxes after Sealaska selects their land, but if they get the new selections they wish, there will be no old growth or roadless areas left in our area, for healthy wildlife populations depended on by our communities and the public. This Bill is unfair and unjust to the public and all who have invested in it.

Judy Magnuson
Port Protection, AK

About: "Commercial fisherman living in Port Protection for 30 years."

Received April 25, 2010 - Published April 27, 2010


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

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