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Sealaska Lands bills head to full House committee

Posted: May 16, 2013 - 10:07pm  |  Updated: May 17, 2013 - 12:12am

The Sealaska Lands bill and a partial settlement went before a subcommittee on Thursday and now head to the full House Resources Committee for review.

Several Sealaska and federal representatives spoke before the House Committee on Indian and Alaska Native affairs regarding both bills.

The partial settlement, meant as a stopgap measure in the event the lands bill isn’t enacted, would transfer approximately 3,380 acres of the Tongass National Forest to partially fulfill the remaining land entitlement of Sealaska.

The, albeit small, parcel listed in H.R. 1306 is aimed at lumbering harvest that would otherwise be cut back in the event the larger bill does not pass this session.

At the hearing, Jim Peña, associate deputy chief of the National Forest System, objected to the transfer of land within 60-days of passage.

Peña urged the committee to convey the carefully crafted language regarding special use authorizations and public access of provisions in H.R. 740.

H.R. 740 is titled “Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act” and would grant 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to the to the regional Native corporation.

“We believe the Department of Agriculture concerns can be addressed,” Sealaska executive vice president Rick Harris said in a statement to the Empire. “We appreciate the Department of Agriculture recognizing this bill as a material improvement and the differences are small and can be resolved.”

Though the legislation has been worked and reworked over the last nine years and although Sealaska is confident it’ll pass this year, some local southeast Alaska organizations aren’t satisfied.

“It continues to be a source of concern for a lot of people in Southeast Alaska,” said Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited Alaska.

According to Bristol, the House version of the bill allows Sealaska to cherry pick all over Alaska and create user conflicts, one such conflict being a provision that doesn’t allow adequate buffers along Salmon streams. Sealaska denied those allegations.

“The House version of the bill is, frankly, terrible,” said Bristol. “It doesn’t have the improvements that are contained in the Senate version. Even those in the Senate aren’t enough to gain our support.”

In the U.S Senate, a similar bill, publicly lauded in February by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, an environmental group, is out of committee and awaits markup.

Both Sealaska bills now head to the full House Resources Committee. From there, if passed, they will go onto the House floor.

Congressmen Don Young (R-AK) chaired Thursday’s panel and is author of both bills.

• Contact reporter Kenneth Rosen at 523-2250 or at kenneth.rosen@juneauempire.com.

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