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Sealaska bill antithesis of free market principles

Posted: May 29, 2011 - 7:09pm

The Sealaska lands bill, S.730, has drawn considerable controversy in Southeast Alaska.

Concerns have also been voiced statewide because certain aspects of the bill could easily unbalance the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) leading to new claims across the state; complicating development, conservation management, and public access to resources.

No proponent of the bill has been totally up front about the true nature of the claim that drives S.730. A close and clear examination of the issue would likely bring all work on S.730 screeching to a halt.

The bill is predicated on, and uses as a foundation an assumption that is in error. Proponents have advanced S.730 with a faulty assertion that ANCSA directed them to complete their selection inside 10 village corporation 16(a) withdraw areas. They claim this ‘direction’ as an unfair situation. In fact the Sealaska Corporation returned to Congress years after ANCSA passed and specifically asked for an amendment to complete their selection inside the village corporation withdraw areas. Congress accommodated Sealaska’s request.

The idea to select “inside the boxes” (16(a) areas) was Sealaska’s idea. And it was a good idea. Congress accommodated them with an exceptionally rich quantity of highly accessible above average timber on the Tongass.

In 1975, pushing their amendment to ANCSA, Sealaska president John Borbridge gave two separate testimonies to the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs stating:

“We would greatly prefer to satisfy our 14(h)(8) rights out of lands in the areas that were withdrawn by section 16(a) for the 10 villages in the southeastern region. Basically we are desirous of selecting lands for timber values… areas could be combined with lands conveyed to the Village corporations to form better management and economic units.”

In testimony there was no mention of shortcomings or desire for a different or ‘better deal’ in finishing out their final land selection. No mention of Kosciusko Island or anywhere else as a desired selection choice. In fact the record shows that Sealaska’s pursuit of the 16(a) areas as a final selection was quite deliberate and well thought out:

“As a result of wide-ranging discussions we [Sealaska Corporation] have had with, among other interested parties, representatives of the State of Alaska, the Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission, and the Sierra Club, we desire to revise the proposed amendment… We have been assured, as so revised, that the proposed amendment is endorsed and supported by the State of Alaska and by the Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission, and that it is acceptable to the Sierra Club. And, of course, as before, it is endorsed and supported by the Alaska Federation of Natives.”

After the Committee approval of the Sealaska requested amendment it was added to S.1824 which became law in 1976.

The situation is clear, Sealaska was compensated in the manner that they chose and there were no misunderstandings. If we follow the rulebook the claim is closed.

Sufficient acreage to complete Sealaska’s claim is acknowledged to be available inside the agreed upon withdrawal areas. In fact Sealaska’s “final and irrevocable priorities” for those acquisition areas have been on file with the BLM since May of 2008. Nothing is stopping anyone from immediately finishing out Sealaska’s original requested claim.

Apparently some are pitching S.730 as some sort of answer to timber industry issues. The logic of this ‘hide the ball’ strategy is flawed on many levels. These pitches should be disregarded by thoughtful members of the public who mean well to the players involved.

Sealaska exclusively exports round logs. A tree is dropped, put on a truck, taken to a boat, and sent overseas where someone creates value-added jobs — often selling their product back to the USA. Not one board foot of Sealaska wood makes it into a local mill where in-state value and jobs are added. Sealaska is very resistant to changing export policy so folks that trumpet their operation are being quite misleading.

The “futures sites” component of the Sealaska bill (numerous smaller areas) merely takes jobs from people that have invested in key areas with tour, guiding and other commercial operations and hands them to Sealaska on an exclusive plate, defeating every aspect of free market principles.

Some Southeast communities are literally fighting David and Goliath battles to keep from being wiped out by the impending loss of multiple use lands in the Sealaska bill. This is an absurd and outrageous way to treat responsible people. We should all step in and help them out. S.730 is a bill that should end and shouldn’t come back.

• Petrich has followed Tongass management issues for more than 20 years. He is a former charter guide and has worked as a civilian Boat Officer for the Alaska State Troopers Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection.

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