Sealaska lands bill moves forward

A bill that would allow regional Native corporation Sealaska to complete its land entitlement moved through a Senate committee Tuesday.

The legislation — which is sponsored by U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowkski, R-Alaska, and Mark Begich, D- Alaska, — is part of a larger package that includes 11 additional lands bills.

If the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act (S. 340) gets through Congress, the corporation will acquire the last of its land claims guaranteed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

A similar bill sponsored by Rep. Don Young, R- Alaska, made it through the House Committee on Natural Resources last week.

Most of the land Sealaska is requesting is timberlands in the Tongass National Forest that the corporation would use for logging.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it “supports this compromise legislation because it will finalize Sealaska’s land entitlement while enhancing the Forest Service’s ability to transition the Tongass to more sustainable second growth forest management.”

USDA spokesperson Tiffany Holloway said the bill “is the result of many months of negotiations amongst Senator Murkowski, Chairman Wyden, former Chairman Bingaman, Sealaska Corporation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The final product voted out of Committee today is a testament to the many hours and fruitful discussions around this legislation.”

Murkowski said the plan went through a thorough process.

“I realize this bill won’t make everyone happy, but we’ve made literally hundreds of changes over the past four years in an effort to meet every possible concern,” Murkowski said in a release. “My goal was to fulfill the promises made to the shareholders of Sealaska by the federal government back in 1971, to support what’s left of Southeast’s timber industry and to recognize that there are areas here that deserve additional protection. I believe this bill accomplishes all three.”

“This important step brings us closer to finalizing the transfer of land owed to the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples in southeast Alaska,” Begich said in a release. “As a co-sponsor, I am pleased that I could bring bipartisan support to this bill so that it is now ready for final passage in the Senate. I applaud Senator Murkowski and her staff as well as the U.S. Forest Service for coming to the table, listening to what Alaskans had to say, and finally reaching a compromise on this long-disputed issue.”

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