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Advisory Commission on Federal Areas finds fault in Sealaska bill

Posted: November 15, 2011 - 12:05am

Alaska’s Citizen’s Advisory Commission on Federal Areas points to existing land agreements and the Endangered Species Act as its reason to oppose proposed Sealaska lands legislation.

The Commission was initially created a year after the 1980 passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. It helped Alaskans navigate ANILCA’s rules and regulations.

Re-established in 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,” according to the Commission’s website. It is made up of six Alaskans appointed by the governor, two legislators and two other citizens.

Stan Leaphart, CACFA executive director, said the Commission met with Sealaska several times since 2009. He said Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s recent lands bills have improved from earlier versions, including the addition of some Commission recommendations such as access across lands.

“Some changes we were happy to see,” Leaphart said.

However, Leaphart said the bill did not go far enough.

“We felt the existing selections that Sealaska had — some people refer to them as boxes — were adequate to fulfill Sealaska’s land requirements,” Leaphart said. “If they were allowed to select land in new areas it can be cause for concern.”

That concern includes possibly triggering the Endangered Species Act protections for the Alexander Archipelago wolf.

Current Sealaska land bills — Murkowski’s Senate Bill 730, titled “Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act” and Rep. Don Young’s House Resolution 1408, titled “Southeast Alaska Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act” — allow the corporation to select land outside traditional Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act boundaries. Leaphart said the Forest Service was concerned loss of additional timber land would upset its program to supply timber to local mills.

“Sealaska’s business is to harvest for the export of round logs,” Leaphart said. Transfer of these lands “might further jeopardize an industry that is on the ropes,” Leaphart said.

Leaphart said the Commission supports Sealaska Corp. getting its lands.

“We will take another look if they make changes to the bill,” he said.

The act is in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, on which Sen. Murkowski is the ranking minority member. Committee spokesman Robert Dillon said CACFA reported on an old version of the bill.

“We believe the comments don’t reflect the current version of the bill. Some (of CACFA’s complaints) have been adjusted and some are being worked on,” Dillon said.

Sealaska Corp. is “disappointed” with Citizen’s Advisory’s report, said Executive Vice President Rick Harris. Harris said he also believes Citizen’s Advisory may have used outdated information.

“We have concerns that the representation on CACFA is not current in regard to the issues affecting Southeast and the legislative adjustments,” Harris said.

The letter correctly recognizes that Sealaska has existing selection rights and it could complete its selections from inside the withdrawals, he said. However, the existing selection areas include numerous sensitive areas, Harris said.

Harris calls Citizen’s Advisory’s Endangered Species Act claims “erroneous.”

“We have supplemental reports that suggest that with the modified selection patterns we can avoid the issues suggested in the letter,” Harris said. 

Though Sealaska does export round logs, Harris said the company also sells to local mills.

“Sealaska has a continuing micro sale program in which we sell wood to small mills,” Harris said.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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