In 2005, Sealaska Corp. was worried that their timber supply was short-lived. In less than 40 years, they have come near the end of their supply of old-growth trees to cut.
Now, they are asking for a change in the law for their economic benefit. To get access to the most productive old-growth forest, Sealaska needs the blessing of Congress, and ultimately the American public who would be losing their special recreational areas and valuable hunting and subsistence habitat. Sealaska never imagined that people would be outraged at this land-grab legislation.
Senate Bill 881, introduced by Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, would entitle Sealaska to their remaining land claims. Two parts of the bill are highly controversial due to the valuable areas under selection.
First, the large areas that have been targeted for timber production are prime areas for wildlife. Places such as Keete, Mabel, Kassa Inlets on the southern half of Prince of Wales Island, and areas nearby the northern communities of Port Portection and Point Baker, are being selected. Most of these selected locations include 'islands' of pristine old-growth timber on POW - an island that has been heavily clearcut for 60 years. Residents have been standing up at hearings across the island, many saying no to the Sealaska bill.
The second component of the bill allows Sealaska to privatize 46 bays and coves throughout Tongass National Forest. Many of these special places, like Port Houghton and Tracy Arm, are valued as public land by locals and visitors. Sealaska's presence would be felt widespread if this bill were to become law.
There is no argument that Sealaska has outstanding land claims to select and there is no need for Congressional action if they complied with the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act protocol. A more straightforward solution to resolve their outstanding claims has always been to comply with ANILCA. They have a certain area from which they can select and there would be no controversy.
Murkowski can do a more responsive job of fielding local concerns by holding hearings throughout Southeast and attending them herself, rather than sending staff and a tape recorder.