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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

GSACC Propagates Urban Legends and Offers Uninformed Opinion on S.340, the “Southeast Alaska Native Lands Finalization and Jobs

By Rick Harris


May 04, 2013
Saturday AM

I read with great interest the April 25th “viewpoint” by David Beebe of the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community (GSACC). 

GSACC unequivocally opposes Sealaska’s land bill on the basis of four conclusions, which are all false:  The legislation (1) sets an unnecessary and far reaching precedent throughout our State; (2) was never vetted through an open public process; (3) results in further sacrifice of vulnerable but productive fragmented watersheds; and (4) yields little socioeconomic benefit beyond Sealaska Corporation’s coffers.  These conclusions simply aren’t true.

Throughout this process, under the guidance of Alaska’s congressional delegation, extraordinary compromises were reached.  For example, the public is guaranteed access in perpetuity for hunting and fishing and recreation on Native land conveyed by this legislation.  For another, areas proposed for selection were dramatically revised after fishermen and communities sat down with Sealaska to address their concerns.   GSACC participation has been uncompromising advocacy that ignores the reasons for the legislation; why this legislation is good for fisheries and conservation.

GSACC has a right to express displeasure with the land legislation.  But if they are to have credibility with the public they must be brokers of honest information, not purveyors of urban legends and unsubstantiated allegations. An example is the oft cited and undocumented claim that this legislation sets a precedent that will unravel the very fabric of the Alaska Natives Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).  GSACC offers no analysis supporting its claim and instead parrots the statements of others.  These concerns were dismissed by the U.S. Forest Service in a hearing before a Senate subcommittee on April 25, when the agency publicly concluded this legislation is unique and not precedent setting.  

GSACC makes an equally indefensible claim that S. 340 was not the result of a public process.  There have been literally hundreds of meetings regarding this legislation since this process began over 10 years ago.  In the April 25th Senate hearing Senator Murkowski reported that these meetings, letters, and phone calls led to over 175 changes to the legislation.  If there was no public involvement why were all of these changes made?  

There is irony in GSACC’s claim about no public process.  When President Theodore Roosevelt created the Tongass National Forest by executive order in 1907, there were no public meetings, no public hearings, and Native objections were simply ignored.  Sealaska and the Alaska delegation have worked hard to make sure stakeholders in S.340 were not similarly treated.  

Regarding GSACC concern over intact watersheds:  this legislation moves Sealaska out of sensitive watersheds. The majority of the lands Sealaska receives are in already roaded areas, where development has already occurred.  Any objective analysis shows that the Sealaska’s selections under S. 340 preserve more intact watersheds than if Sealaska was forced to select from original withdrawal areas. 

The claim that S. 340 “yields little socioeconomic benefit beyond Sealaska Corporation’s coffers” is equally uninformed and without basis in fact.   Annually, from just our timber operations, over $50 million is expended in Southeast Alaska.  These expenditures benefit a large number of businesses in Southeast Alaska.  If you doubt our claim, see the economic contribution reports prepared by the McDowell Group that are available on the Sealaska website. 

We believe that anyone who reviews the record, understands the science, and honestly compares the conservation and economic benefits in this legislation will conclude that it is good public policy.   Many in our community—including tribes, communities, businesses, federal agencies, and even conservation activists—have already come to that conclusion.  Issues of land use in the Tongass demand truthful dialogue and accurate information; the readers of opinion letters about S. 340 should demand the same.

Rick Harris
EVP of Sealaska
Juneau, AK

About: "Executive Vice President of Sealaska."

Received May 02, 2013 - Published May 04, 2013

Related Viewpoint:

letter GSACC unequivocally opposes S.340, the “Southeast Alaska Native Lands Finalization and Jobs Protection Act By David Beebe



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