GSACC unequivocally opposes S.340, the “Southeast Alaska Native Lands Finalization and Jobs Protection Act.
By David Beebe
April 25, 2013
S.340 is potentially a disastrous legal precedent, by rewriting terms of the largest lands claims settlement in United States History -- the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA.) Additionally, S.340 subverts Title VIII subsistence provisions of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, and subverts the spirit of the high-grading prohibition of the Tongass Timber Reform Act of 1990. While all this prior legislation was contentious, each was passed using an open public participation process. In contrast, the Sealaska legislation, has been tainted by exclusive stakeholder meetings at the Tongass Futures Roundtable with ANCSA entitlements and other land selections high on the list of TFR Charter Goals.1 Members of the Roundtable then conducted a secret negotiation meeting closed to the press and the public.2 While Senator Murkowski staff members took informal testimony and the Sealaska Corporation made its presentations, no formal public field hearings were ever conducted. This is certainly not a substitute for transparent public participation process open to all regional stakeholders. As such, S.340 is widely perceived as simply political payback3 to corporate special interests.
Not surprisingly, the political payback in S.340 ignores the final ANCSA lands selections Sealaska has already filed with the Bureau of Land Management. For years, Sealaska has requested these selections under the Alaska Lands Transfer Acceleration Act, but prefers them not transferred by the agency because S.340 will vastly expand the value of Sealaska’s settlement under ANCSA. Furthermore, S.340 ignores the lopsided economic tradeoffs to the American public by not requiring value for value land appraisals.
And indeed, S.340 is a lopsided deal. Timber selections granted under S.340 far exceed the value– perhaps by a factor of ten -- of remaining timberlands in the ANCSA designated selection areas. Sealaska Inc. and Southeast Alaska’s other ANCSA corporations have already picked-over those areas, taking the best timbered areas. Now Sealaska wants to cast-off the rest, for more of the best elsewhere. S.340 perpetuates the relentless, unsustainable high-grading of Sealaska Inc., the largest private landowner in Southeast Alaska, to the detriment of important habitat and watersheds. S.340 does not even require the full 100 ft. buffer strips on scores of salmon streams slated to be clearcut and that currently would have that federal protection, if logged.
At the larger watershed scale, S.340 endows Sealaska with productive public watersheds already heavily impacted but that still, “serve critical ecological and social functions (salmon forests) and are sensitive to logging (karst forests) [which] have been disproportionately impacted by past logging in Southeast.” (Tongass Forest Restoration Report, Christensen 2012)
These watersheds were never intended by Congress to be in ANCSA selections. Rather, they now deserve restoration and/or future protection. GSACC opposes the notion that past abuses simply justify the further sacrifice of these critical watersheds –especially when the watersheds already selected and pending at the BLM are by comparison not as critical.
Recently S.340 has been touted as gaining support from two environmental organizations. This support, however, is thin. S.340 is clearly opposed by 9 directly impacted rural communities, large portions of the environmental community, recreational sportsmen, rural subsistence users, and some 800 dissident Sealaska Corporation shareholders.
Lastly, the claim that S.340 will boost the region’s economy defies reality. Sealaska Timber Corporation exports raw logs to Pacific Rim nations, bypassing opportunities for local year round employment – that’s their business model. In addition, Sealaska’s corporate logging has maximized profits at the expense of subsistence-dependent villagers and their environment -- degrading fish and wildlife habitat and obliterating scenic viewsheds. Ironically, the profits have been insufficient to help the villagers much.
The export of jobs and the environmental damage around rural Native villages has played a major role in the existing high unemployment in those communities. The cultural and socioeconomic havoc created by Sealaska Timber Inc. is well documented by anthropologists (Kirk Dombrowski Against Culture: Development, Politics and Religion in Indian Alaska. University of Nebraska Press, 247 pp.) and Sealaska’s 800- dissident shareholders. In their views, as well as ours, S.340 will perpetuate this longstanding socioeconomic and environmental injustice.
In summary, S.340 sets a bad precedent, will perpetuate bad public policy, and was contrived by an elite of self-selected players, under a self-serving, exclusive, non-transparent process. Clearly, S.340 will further degrade important habitat that fuels so much of our region’s socioeconomic well-being. These large tradeoffs are unnecessary especially when the ANCSA promises to Sealaska Corporation can be readily met and finalized with no controversy.
Again, GSACC urges you to strongly oppose S.340.
Received April 23, 2013 - Published April 25, 2013
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