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Passage of Lands Bill Not Supported by Governor's Citizen’s Advisory Commission on Federal Areas


November 10, 2011
Thursday AM

(SitNews) - In a letter to U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Wes Keller, Chairman of Alaska's Citizens' Advisory Commission of Federal Areas said the Commission has concluded that Sealaska Corporation's land entitlement under Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) can be met with the currently selected lands in the existing withdrawals and that neither S. 730 nor H.R. 1408 will accomplish this in a manner that is fair and equitable to all the residents and communities who depend on the resources in the Tongass National Forest. In the letter, Keller included detailed reasons why the Citizens' Advisory Commission of Federal Areas cannot support passage of S. 730 or H.R. 1408.

Forty years after the passage of ANCSA, Keller wrote the Commission has agreed it is well past time for Sealaska's selections to be finalized and its lands conveyed; however after much deliberation, the Citizens' Advisory Commission of Federal Areas concluded that the corporation's land entitlement can adequately be met with lands from the ANCSA withdrawals areas added by Congress in 1976.

The Citizens' Advisory Commission of Federal Areas has been working since 2010 to impartially evaluate and understand the impacts of the proposed legislation intended to finalize the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) land entitlement of Sealaska Corporation. The commission has met with representatives and shareholders of Sealaska on several occasions to discuss the provisions of S. 881, the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization Act and most recently S 730 the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act. The commission also carefully examined Congressman Don Young's (R-AK) similar companion bill, H.R. 1408 of the same title.

In 2010, the commission formed a subcommittee to analyze S. 881 and submitted detailed comments and recommendations to Senator Murkowski's office. A number of those recommendations were incorporated into the current bill, S. 730.

Most recently, at its October 28, 2011, meeting the full Commission, after hearing additional public testimony, adopted the recommendations of the subcommittee. Those recommendations were submitted to Murkowski in the letter dated November 04, 2011.

In the letter to Senator Murkowski, it was noted by Chairman Keller that the Commission was increasingly frustrated in their deliberations by the lack of data available to objectively and throughly assess the benefits and impacts of the proposed Sealaska selections outside of the existing ANCSA withdrawal areas. For example, conflicting claims about whether the original withdrawal areas contain sufficient timber to sustain Sealaska's timber program could not be confirmed because there are no publicly available timber appraisals. Comparative economic data are also unavailable.

Chairman Keller wrote in the letter that the Citizens' Advisory Commission of Federal Areas does continue to support the completion of Sealaska Corporation's land selections and the conveyance of lands that will provide continued essential economic opportunities for the corporation, its shareholders and Southeast Alaska.

However Keller wrote that after much thought the Commission concluded that the corporation's land entitlement can be adequately met with lands from the ANCSA withdrawals areas added by Congress in 1976.

In the letter, the following reasons were stated as to why the Citizens' Advisory Commission of Federal Areas cannot support passage of S. 730 or H.R. 1408:

It is highly probable that revisions to the Tongass National Forest Land and Resources Management Plan (TLMP) would be required in order for the U.S. Forest Service to meet the goals found in that plan. Harris Sherman, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) testified before the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests that S. 730 would hinder efforts to implement the Southeast Alaska Transition Strategy developed to implement the Tongass plan.

Failure to implement this strategy would in turn impact the ability of the Forest Service to provide an adequate timber supply for local processing by existing mills and associated jobs, something the Fore Service already struggles with. Keller wrote that while the Sealaska timber harvest program certainly provides valuable jobs in the region, its emphasis almost exclusively on round log export provides little timber to local mills or jobs for in state process of timber. According to Keller's letter, Sealaska has made it clear that emphasis will not change.

According to the U.S. Forest Service the majority of lands identified in S. 730 are found close to the only medium sized and smaller local mills remaining in the region. Approximately 64 percent of the land available for selection under S. 730 is within the area identified for projects listed ont he Tongass' 5-year plan and would adversely affect potential profitable sales to those local mills. Keller wrote that the Citizens' Advisory Commission of Federal Areas found no evidence the resulting loss of jobs and economic impacts to local communities and businesses will be offset by a corresponding increase in the number of jobs from Sealaska's timber program. The Commission also pointed out that Sealaska would not be precluded from bidding on U.S. Forest Service timber sales. While there are restrictions on export of timber harvested from national forest lands, some types my be exported as round logs.

The conservation strategy within the Tongass plan was designed, in part, to avoid listing of the Queen Charlotte Goshawk and the Alexander Archipelago Wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Keller wrote, there is documented concern that the proposed land conveyances of lands in S. 730 will decrease the effectiveness of the conservation strategy in the plan and increase the likelihood that these two species would be considered for listing. The Center for Biological Diversity recently filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for listing the Alexander Archipelago Wolf as endangered. While listing is not warranted for either species wrote Keller, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decision not to list was based ont he conservation strategy in the 1997 Tongass plan that carried forward into the 2008 revision.

The Commission strongly opposes the creation of the proposed Conservation AReas. Placing more than 150,000 acres into a permanent legislatively designated conservation classification which does not allow timber harvest or road construction further impacts the timber industry. The 16.74 million acre Tongass National Forest already contains 5,753,548 acres of designated wilderness and 722,482 acres of congressionally designated Land Use designation (LUD) II lands. Keller wrote, adding this additional acreage would place nearly 40% of the Tongass under wilderness designation or its equivalent. In addition, Keller wrote on behalf of the Commission, creation of these areas will not remove the threat of the ESA listing of the Queen Charlotte Goshawk or the Alexander Archipelago Wolf. Keller wrote, "To be frank, we are confused by the proposed creation of eight new conservation areas in light of your (Murkowski's) objections to Secretary Salazar's Wild Lands Policy and the new round of wilderness suitability reviews conducted by agencies within that department."

The proposed conveyance of the sites with traditional, recreational and renewable energy use value, previously identified as future sites or economic development site, has generated the most controversy within Southeast Alaska wrote Keller. He pointed out the number of identified sites has decreased, and access provisions modified in response to public concerns, reliance of Section 17(b) easements to protect public access across ANCSA corporation lands in many instances elsewhere in Alaska has proven to be inadequate. Proposals to reserve even existing access routes as 17(b) easements frequently are challenged successfully by corporations. There are also a number of cases where the Bureau of Land Management has simply refused to reserve the easements despite strong public support and demonstrated need. Conveyance of these sites to private ownership does not appear to be in the best interest of local communities or residents wrote Keller on behalf of the Commission.

Although existing guiding and outfitting special use permits and authorizations issued by the U.S. Forest Service will be allowed to continue on conveyed lands for the remaining term of the permit and one subsequent 10 year renewal, it is likely that these commercial operation ultimately will be displaced. Should this occur, it is far from certain that the operation could shift to National Forest Lands as the U.S. Forest Service in recent years has made decisions to restrict guiding operation in some ranger districts on the Tongass, particularly in designated wilderness areas wrote Keller.

As a final reason for not supporting the passage of S. 730 or H.R. 1408 by the Commission, while S. 730 applies only to land selections and conveyances to Sealaska Corporation, it has the potential to create additional pressure from other ANCSA corporations to revisit their selections. ANCSA has been amended many times since its passage, but this proposal is unprecedented wrote Chairman Keller on behalf of the Commission. Existing withdrawals and selections authorized under the 1976 amendments in response to Sealaska's request are adequate to fulfill their entitlement.

The Citizen’s Advisory Commission on Federal Areas (CACFA) was initially created a year after the 1980 passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). It gave a voice to Alaskans negotiating ANILCA’s complex management rules and regulations until 1999, when state funding was eliminated.

The Commission was re-established after Representative Mike Kelly of Fairbanks introduced and won passage of House Bill 87, which Governor Sarah Palin signed into law on September 28, 2007. The Commission is responsible for identifying and reducing potential negative impacts on Alaska and its citizens from federal actions on any of the 239 million acres of federal land in the state.

Under the terms of the reauthorization law, the Governor appoints six Alaskans to the Commission who serve for four years; while the Speaker of the House and the Senate President may each appoint one legislator from their bodies, and two other Alaskans all of whom may serve for two years. Citizen appointees must represent the diversity of users and uses of federal land in Alaska.

Current Board Members are Rod Arno, Mark Fish, Rep. Wes Keller, Charlie Lean, Mike Meekin, Sen. Linda Menard, Rick Schikora, Susan Smith, Colleen Richards. Alex Tarnai and Frank Woods.


Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews

Source of News: 

Citizens' Advisory Commission on Federal Areas
Alaska Department of Natural Resources


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