Thoughts on reversing Southeast Alaska's declining population trends

With completion of the 2011 Alaska Redistricting Board’s Plan, Southeast Alaskans will want to coordinate their actions to reverse the projected population decline in our region’s population over the next two decades.

 

The Alaska Department of Labor’s December 2010 publication “Alaska Economic Trends” reports the 2009 population of 69,338 for Southeast Alaska will decline 14.2 percent to 59,472 by 2034 — even though the population of the entire state of Alaska is projected to increase 24.6 percent from 2009 to 2034. If these Department of Labor projections come to pass, the Alaska Redistricting Boards in 2021 and 2031 will be obligated to make even further drastic adjustments to the legislative districts of Southeast Alaska.

There are many alternative strategies that can be considered for reversing the continuing projected decline of Southeast Alaska’s population. From my perspective, it is imperative every Southeast Alaska community has a community and private land base with affordable energy, access to surrounding resources and opportunities to achieve and sustain their Alaska dreams. This will attract private investment capital for sound resource development projects that will create jobs and improve the economy and quality of life values for all of Southeast Alaska.

Success of the state of Alaska’s litigation opposing reinstatement of the 2001 Roadless Rule on the Tongass is also essential to assure all Southeast communities have access to the resources that surround them.

Walter Soboleff’s April 8, 2008, Juneau Empire My Turn essay “The Past and Future of the Tongass” — eloquently describes the history of our region and the challenges Alaska Native villages and all of us face. Soboleff cited the “promise of a brighter future” with investments “in clean, hydro-electric projects planned to power all our communities with affordable electricity” and the settlement of Alaska Native land claims.

I am encouraged by Gov. Sean Parnell and the Alaska Energy Authority’s (AEA) support of hydro-electric and other renewable energy projects in Southeast Alaska — and AEA’s exploration of the potential for an intertie with the Northern Transmission Line Project in British Columbia.

I believe the Alaska Congressional Delegation’s Sealaska Lands Bill (S.B. 730 and H.R. 1408), provides the basis for settling Sealaska’s Native Land Claims during this session of Congress. Settlement of Alaska Native Land claims is long overdue. From my recent forestry tour of Prince of Wales Island, the Sealaska Corporation is doing an excellent job in managing its young growth forest lands and providing affordable energy to various communities from Sealaska’s hydro-electric project on the island.

The Southeast Conference provides the organizational umbrella for all Southeast communities and tribal governments to coordinate their strategies to reverse our region’s declining population, strengthen the economy and improve quality of life values in all communities. We are fortunate having Shelley Wright as executive director and Assemblyman Merrill Sanford on the Southeast Conference Board and co-chairing the conference’s energy and timber committees.

With the unity of all Southeast communities and Tribal governments, working in partnership with the governor, Alaska Legislature, congressional delegation, private sector investors and Tongass National Forest administrators “the promise of a brighter future” Soboleff referred to can be achieved.

With that achievement, the population of Southeast Alaska will no longer decline. Young Alaskans will have the opportunity to own land and housing; secure a good education, employment and enjoy the social benefits of every Southeast Alaska community.

• Sandor, of Juneau, is an Alaska-Canada Energy Coalition board member, a former U.S. Forest Service regional forester (1976-1984) and was commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation from 1990-1994.

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