Stop Sealaska's land bill

Posted: Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Senate Bill 881, the Sealaska landbill, should die in committee. Sealaska's selections should only occur within the area specified by ANCSA in 1971.

This bill in front of the Senate Natural Resources Committee stands to devastate the transitioning economy of Southeast Alaska.

S.B. 881: Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization Act does not represent the future for Southeast Alaska. It represents a dying industry that should be relegated to the past. While Sealaska is requesting access to new lands to support its declining timber base, the rest of Southeast Alaska is looking to more sustainable avenues for their future economy.

Just like the "gold rush" days of the late 1800's, the timber industry's time in Southeast Alaska has clearly come and gone. The main reason for this are changing attitudes toward conservation and sustainable resource use. The economy of the world has changed, and it is no longer acceptable to destroy irreplaceable resources to profit small numbers of people. Sealaska's methods of clear-cut harvesting can never be represented as sustainable, as evidenced by their selections in this bill.

They already are the largest private landowner in Southeast Alaska, yet here they are asking Congress to allow them to step outside the boundaries established by ANCSA to pursue economic rewards that are clearly not sustainable.

The remote community of Edna Bay, on Kosciusko Island, has found itself drug into the middle of a land conveyance process that should never have affected it. We are literally fighting for our survival. Sealaska's selection of almost 32,000 acres of public lands surrounding our community threatens to upend nearly 30 years of hard work and development. Our hard work and investment has resulted in a growing community that includes a school, church, general store, and post office. This community has developed because of continued open access to the extensive road system and public lands surrounding it.

Transferring those public lands into private ownership will destroy any chance we have for a future.

Originally a logging camp, Edna Bay has transitioned over the years to support a wide variety of economic opportunities that include commercial fishing, guiding, eco-tourism, cabin rentals and small sawmills that produce locally available lumber. Thanks to investment by USDA, the recent addition of broadband Internet has opened the door to an even wider array of business opportunities that are clearly more sustainable than the one that brought us into existence. We have developed an interwoven economy that will continue to offer prosperity to the region far into the future.

Everyone clearly supports swift completion of ANCSA. Sealaska's looming legislation has affected migration to the area for almost a decade. Several families who have purchased property in Edna Bay are waiting for the outcome of this bill before making the decision to relocate here. We need continued management by the U.S. Forest Service for people to have access to resources they will need to develop their land. We depend on personal use timber, sand and gravel from the public lands around our community to build here. The cost of importing these materials is more than any of us could bear, and would stop all development in Edna Bay.

If Sealaska had not fought so long against the directive laid out for them by Congress during the establishment of ANCSA, they could already have their land conveyance completed and be pursuing economic opportunities around native communities as they were supposed to. Congress clearly intended for them to benefit their own communities with their endeavors, not destroy already established communities in areas that should never have been threatened by their entitlement.

Sealaska needs to use their resources to develop sustainable economic opportunities for its corporation from within the boundaries established by ANCSA, and allow the rest of Southeast Alaska to continue developing a more sustainable economy based on a balanced use of the forest and wise conservation of our natural resources.

This bill should never pass out of committee, and certainly not without a formal hearing held on Prince of Wales Island, where its effects will be devastating.

• Myla Poelstra is a resident of Edna Bay.



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