SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

House Passes Sealaska Lands Bill


June 20, 2012

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - A bill described as an effort to boost Southeast Alaska’s struggling timber industry, create jobs in the region and finalize a longstanding land entitlement, the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday, led by Alaskan Congressman Don Young (R) passed H.R. 2578, the Conservation and Economic Growth Act by a bipartisan vote of 232 to 188.

This bipartisan lands legislation includes Rep. Young’s Sealaska bill, H.R. 1408, the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act – legislation that would finalize Sealaska Native Corporation’s land selections under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).

“Today [Tuesday] is an important day not only for Sealaska’s shareholders, but for all of Southeast Alaska,” said Rep. Young. “It’s a shame that now, over 40 years since ANCSA became law, Sealaska still does not have its full land allotment. After traveling throughout the region and hearing from stakeholders on both sides of this issue, I believe this bill is a fair compromise," said Young. "This bill is a jobs creator in a region that badly needs it. In the end, all Alaska Native shareholders will benefit when Sealaska undertakes its sustainable timber management program on the lands conveyed in this bill.”

Because of the revenues that will be shared with other Native Corporations in accordance with section 7(i) of ANCSA, all Alaska Native Shareholders will reap the benefits of this legislation said Young.

“I remember a time when Southeast Alaska’s timber industry lead its industry and helped employ thousands of Alaskans,” Rep. Young continued. “Unfortunately, after decades of baseless lawsuits from radical environmentalists and poor land stewardship by the Forest Service, Alaska’s timber industry has seen a 90% decline since 1990. This bill is crucial to the success and quite frankly, survival of Alaska’s timber industry.”

In addition to having the full support of the entire Alaska delegation, this legislation enjoys the support of the National Congress of American Indians, the Intertribal Timber Council, the Alaska Federation of Natives, the ANCSA Regional Presidents & CEOs, the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, the Alaska Forest Association, and numerous other communities, community organizations, and tribes throughout Southeast Alaska.

Young said he is pleased that his colleagues in the House recognized Tuesday just how important this legislation is to the people of Southeast Alaska. Young said, "As the Senate crafts a similar omnibus lands package, I look forward to working to ensure this legislation is enacted into law.”

Quoting Young's news release, he said many changes have been made to accommodate reasonable concerns brought by those who enjoy public access in the Tongass. For example, the bill contains language reserving easements for public access on Sealaska’s private lands in a number of areas.

However, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is disappointed that the House passed this legislation.  Quoting a news release from SEACC, this ill-advised bill fails to consider years of work towards a more responsible solution of land management issues on the Tongass.  The SEACC stated they believe it makes a responsible solution to Sealaska’s land entitlements further away.

In a prepared statement the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council said Sealaska provisions in the bill that passed the House Tuesday are a clumsy attempt to address a complex problem, and exacerbate the controversy and conflict over the bill.  The timber and Futures Sites parcels that have generated tremendous community controversy over the last few years remain in this bill.  Clearcutting and developing these areas would have serious negative impacts on the customary and traditional use of forest resources by people from small communities all over Southeast Alaska said SEACC.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council rejects the House version of the Sealaska bill and has called on the Senate to reject it as well.

According to the Sealaska website, Sealaska continues to seek finalization of a land settlement mandated under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). Under ANCSA, Sealaska will receive approximately 370,000 acres. To date the federal government has conveyed only 290,000 acres.

Sealaska expressed that they appreciate the leadership of Congressman Don Young for carrying H.R. 1408 and its message through the nation’s capital, and ensuring its inclusion in H.R. 2578.

The House Omnibus Lands Package will now be sent to the Senate for its consideration.

Finalizing Sealaska’s land settlement under ANCSA is not complete and continues to maneuver through the legislative process. A companion bill introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), S. 730, remains pending in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Sealaska said they anticipate that the Senate will develop its own Public Lands Bill Package or may consider and amend the House passed package.

Before any bill becomes law, both the House and the Senate must approve it, and then the president must sign it into law.

Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


Sources of News: 

Congressman Don Young

Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC)



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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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