Southeast Alaska has been held in a state of turmoil and uncertainty for more than two years. This is when the majority of the public found out about the proposed Sealaska Bill and the far reaching impacts of this legislation. Once the issue was brought up at city council meetings all over Southeast, it created opposition to this legislation that spans across the full spectrum of people, user groups and communities in our area.
The Sealaska Bill is not an easy issue to categorize. That is why you will find such large diversity within the groups of people who are opposed to this legislation, including: Environmental groups, Communities, Commercial fishermen, Small Mill Operators , Sportsmen groups, Subsistence users, Charter guides, Recreational/Tourist groups, Natives and Sealaska shareholders, Democrats and Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals. Over 50 percent of speakers at meetings held last year, and at least 8 communities are on record opposed to this legislation.
It should be obvious to anyone how emotionally charged this issue has become by reading the “comments” section on editorials and opinions posted in the papers on this issue. It is also obvious that nothing has been settled by the adjustments on the bill. Moving impacts from one place to another, taking out some controversial future sites and exchanging them with other controversial alternative energy sites. Adding a few conservation sites at the tops of the highest peaks on NPOW, leaving a Coho salmon stream watershed in the middle of the Calder selection (a Karst area) for timber harvest., and making the Tongass Management Plan have to be redone at great expense to the USFS and nullifying all the work and participation done by them and the public, for decades, on managing these areas.
Sealaska says they did not get a good deal 40 years ago, they have turned this into a divisive issue that has split Southeast Alaska with a Us vs. Them mentality that is not healthy. We all need to work together to make sure we all succeed, and that our children all have a healthy environment and resources for the future.
In 1975 Sealaska’s President John Borbridge, asked Congress to finalize their land selections inside the 10 village corporation 16(a) withdrawal areas. Sealaska had to go to Congress and amend ANCSA to do this. Congress designated these locations at Sealaskas request, the very ones that they and Senator Murkowski are now saying they were forced to take as a bad deal. Sealaska has had 291,000 acres of land conveyed to them so far, that’s 450 square miles of high-value timber that they harvested in record time, Sealaska has taken millions of dollars from their lands and yet have failed to diversify the southeast economy in any meaningful way. To think they can accomplish this aim with another 80,000 acres taken at the publics expense instead of from their choices already made from within the boxes does not sit right with those opposed to this legislation as these lands are already encumbered with public multiple uses.
Our senator and representative will be creating an inequity with this legislation and the probable consequences of passing this bill should not be ignored. This bill opens up whole new unique categories of selections not available to other regional corporations, and will set a precedence for future disposal of public lands.
The Bureau of Land Management should finalize Sealaska’s lands that are already chosen inside the withdrawal areas. The communities and businesses of Southeast have been put on hold long enough through this legislation attempt, which has only become more controversial over time. It would be wrong to slip it in with other bills less controversial in the attempt to pass it because it would fail on it’s own merit. Senator Murkowski and Representative Young do a disservice to their other constituents by pushing this bill over the real objections of an entire region. Sealaska can have their land today, land they have already selected, and the rest of Southeast can get on with their lives.
Southeast Alaska needs vision to bring us together to form a sustainable future, not legislation that tears us apart.
• Magnuson is a Port Protection resident.