SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Opponents Concerned About Sealaska Land Exchange Proposal


May 17, 2012

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - Concerned about the proposal being discussed by the Obama administration and Congress, opponents have travelled to Washington, D.C. to participate in meetings in the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, and with undersecretary Harris Sherman of the US Department of Agriculture regarding the impacts of the proposal on Tongass communities. 

Participating in these meeting are Southeast Alaska Conservation Council’s Forest Program Director, Bob Claus, and Grassroots Attorney, Buck Lindekugel, Mike Sallee of Ketchikan and Gene Natkong of Hydaburg. Their position is that the proposal threatens not only old-growth stands in America’s largest remaining temperate rainforest, but would give 30 world-class hunting, fishing, and tourism destinations in the Tongass that are now in the public domain to the Sealaska Corporation. The eight of the 30 places that could be lost are described in an eight-page Southeast Alaska Conservation Council report released yesterday (Trading Away the Tongass).

Negotiations between government officials and Sealaska are based on a legislative proposal sought by the Sealaska Corporation that would give it ownership of some of the public lands in the Tongass National Forest. Opponents assert the proposal will allow Sealaska the right to log stands of old-growth and second-growth forests of higher value than those available to the corporation under current law, and would give the corporation ownership of up to 30 key parcels near Tongass communities.

The talks are based on H.R. 1408, introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and a similar bill, S. 730, introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), and would modify Sealaska’s selection rights under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). 

Opponents of the proposed modification plan say concerns about the proposal have been raised by the commercial fishing industry, Alaska Native groups, hunters and anglers, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, municipalities and ecotourism businesses. The small parcels to be transferred to Sealaska under the plan have generated widespread controversy due to impacts on existing uses and conflicts with the Forest Service’s Tongass Land Management Plan and other community development efforts. 

“The proposal to privatize these areas would be a step backward for the Tongass,” said Mike Sallee, a commercial dive fisherman and small mill operator in Ketchikan.  “These areas are crucial to our tourism and fisheries economies, and are a huge part of our communities.  The Spring Creek/Bailey Bay Hot Springs area is widely used by tour operators, hunters, locals, and independent travelers.  It’s one of the most special and beautiful areas in the Tongass.”

“Since time immemorial, my family and I have been fighting for our traditional way of life,” said Gene Natkong of Hydaburg, a native village on Prince of Wales Island.  “The futures sites inholdings that are part of this proposal directly affect my family and clan’s ability to use our traditional resources.”

Upon fulfillment of the Alaska Natives Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) land entitlement as prescribed in the legislation, Sealaska will relinquish its rights to 327,000 acres of valuable land consisting of 277,000 acres of designated roadless areas and 112,000 acres of productive old-growth. The legislation as proposed will protect lands with significant spiritual, cultural and sacred value to Southeast’s Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples. The public stands to benefit, as well, according to information provided on the Sealaska website. The legislation guarantees unprecedented public access for subsistence and recreational uses on Sealaska lands in perpetuity.

The legislation will allow Sealaska to select lands that are more suitable to fulfill the promise of the Alaska Natives Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) than the lands that are currently available. Quoting the Sealaska website, the bill also ensures that the public will gain, not lose, roadless areas and old growth forest, and it protects conservation areas and sensitive municipal watersheds that are important to local communities and the region. Sealaska will not receive any more land than it is entitled to receive in accordance with the Alaska Natives Claims Settlement Act.

Under S.730 /H.R. 1408 Sealaska is giving up selections in the original withdrawal boundaries which totals 327,000 acres. As a result , Sealaska would take ownership of 85,000 acres of land with great cultural, historical and economic value. Much of this acreage is already roaded and is young growth. Approximately 8,600 acres would be reserved for sacred sites and “Native Futures” sites on which no commercial harvest or mineral development will occur. Overall, Sealaska would receive approximately 39,000 fewer acres of old growth than it would if it selected all its remaining lands from within the original ANCSA prescribed withdrawal areas.

With the stroke of a pen in 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt created the Tongass National Forest, effectively signing away all aboriginal land claims in Alaska. The fight for the Alaska Natives Claims Settlement Act began at that moment.

After years of struggle and unauthorized land transfers between non-Native entities, Native voices began to rise in unison. The Alaska Federation of Natives was formed, and the first Native land claims settlements were proposed in Congress in 1967.

The 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) guaranteed the return of 44 million acres of land to Alaska Natives, the largest land claims settlement in United States history. The act also authorized the creation of regional, urban and village corporations, like Sealaska Corporation, to promote and protect the economic and cultural vitality of Alaska Natives.

The intent of Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was to formally recognize the need for a fair and just land settlement that addressed the real economic and social needs of Alaska Natives.

Sealaska was formed as the Native Corporation for the Southeast Alaska region, which today is owned by more than 20,000 tribal member shareholders.

Known as the “crown jewel” of America’s national forests, the 17-million-acre Tongass contains the largest remaining temperate rainforest left on earth. It is home to much of America’s remaining old-growth forests and a nearly $1 billion fishing industry


Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


On the Web:

Sealaska Corporation

Trading Away the Tongass



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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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