It is only a matter of time that the Sealaska Corporation entitlement bill will be dusted-off for this new congressional session. Just last month, the dialogue on the bill commenced on Southeast’s public radio stations and a week ago, I read the OpEd by Chris E. McNeill Jr., CEO and president of Sealaska Corporation, in the Juneau Empire (January 31, 2011). Unfortunately, the six-part radio series failed to include voices from local small businesses that make their living off the land and waters. And, Mr. McNeill’s column continues to push for a single-stakeholder solution.
I don’t believe that I am alone in saying that the main issue with this entitlement bill is that it is not good for the whole of the community. As Southeast Alaskans, we absolutely need to take a serious look at the legislation and ensure that it is reflective of the needs of the larger community. In the recent radio series, Sealaska Corporation mentioned that the timber industry contributed approximately 210 jobs on POW. Certainly jobs in this economy are important, but we need to look at the bigger picture of the economy and jobs and businesses throughout the whole of Southeast Alaska.
I make my living, like many others in Southeast, in ecotourism — one of our strongest growing sectors in our regional economy. The intact wilderness and bounty of wildlife is what sustains my family and me. I have the immense privilege of sharing the incredible beauty and diversity of wildlife with boat-less locals and thousands of visitors who come to experience our beautiful Southeast Alaska. Sitka Sound, Kruzof Island and the South Baranof and West Chichagof Wilderness Areas are just some of the wild places where I usher my guests.
McDowell Group released a 2010 report that has projected three future growth sectors for Sitka: seafood, tourism, and health care. Two of the three growth sectors are dependent on wild, intact forests and coasts. Also, another McDowell report focused on Juneau and Southeast Alaska estimated value of the seafood industry for all of Southeast Alaska – approximately 4,674 southeast Alaska residents (2,129 commercial fishermen and 2, 545 crew members) fished in 2009, including 697 Juneau residents. These reports, I believe, are telling in terms of where our economy and jobs are trending for the future. McDowell mentions that the diversity of the economy is one of our greatest strengths. We must ensure that this continues to be the case moving into the future.
No one argues that the Sealaska Corporation does not deserve immediate resolution to its land entitlements. The question is how we, as a community, can ensure that Sealaska’s entitlements are resolved, while ensuring that we don’t develop and/or clear-cut these absolutely priceless areas, throughout our Tongass National Forest, that are crucial to the growth and sustainability of eco-tourism and fisheries. I urge our congressional delegation to ensure that all voices have a say in the future of Southeast Alaska’s economy.
• Lubin is the captain and owner of the Esther G II. He has 30 years of experience on the waters of Southeast Alaska. Mr. Lubin operates a wildlife tour and wilderness sea taxi service out of Sitka.