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Senator sets up Sealaska lands bill meetings

Murkowski's staff to record discussions in Southeast communities

Posted: Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Meetings on Sealaska Corp.'s lands legislation are set to begin in the region next week.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski set the meetings up to address growing criticism from the southern part of the region over Senate Bill 881, which would transfer about 85,000 acres of public land into private ownership.

Sealaska, the region's Native corporation, plans to harvest timber on most of the land.

Residents on Prince of Wales Island say the harvests would ruin their subsistence lifestyles.

The series of meetings set up by Murkowski's staff begin Monday and end March 12.

The meetings will be recorded, transcribed and conveyed to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee before members decide whether to report the bill to the full Senate for consideration, Murkowski said in a statement.

Murkowski, a ranking member of the committee, sponsored the bill with support from the rest of Alaska's delegation.

Residents wanted Murkowski to attend the meetings herself.

Sealaska seeks to complete its lands selection process granted under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. It needs the Congressional decision because it wants to choose lands outside the original boundaries of the Act.

Meanwhile, a heated exchange in Juneau on Thursday among some of the 35 members of the Tongass Futures Roundtable resulted in a commitment to continue to talk about the bill.

The Tongass Futures Roundtable formed three years ago to try to reach agreements about land use on the Tongass National Forest, after decades of fighting and litigation.

No details about those meetings were available Monday but the group in the past has quickly scheduled discussions to deal with pressing legislative or forest management topics, Tongass Futures Program Director John Sisk said.

"I think there's every reason to think those will occur relatively soon," Sisk said.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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