Ex-Fish and Game officials warn of Sealaska bill

Posted: Wednesday, May 05, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Three former top administrators with the state Department of Fish and Game are warning Gov. Sean Parnell about a bill that would allow a Native corporation to hand-pick lands in the Tongass National Forest.

The bill pending in Congress would convey up to 85,000 acres to Sealaska Corp., with lands being picked outside boundaries set by the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. That law compensated Natives for taking their lands after statehood in 1959.

The letter said the bill could create severe economic problems for southeast Alaska if it leads to the Queen Charlotte goshawk and the Alexander Archipelago wolf being listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. It said a plan is in place to keep the two species off the list by creating old-growth forest reserves where logging would not occur.

But Sealaska is eyeing tens of thousands of acres of old growth forest, some of it in those reserves, said the letter signed by Wayne Regelin, Ron Somerville and Matt Robus. Two of the three are former Fish and Game deputy commissioners, and all three have served as the director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation.

Sealaska, which has more than 20,000 shareholders, is attempting to finalize its land allocations under ANCSA.

"Remember when Weyerhaeuser Corporation said, 'The spotted owl will never affect us,'" the letter said. "If either species is listed as either threatened or endangered, the effect will be the elimination of any logging industry in the region - either on private or public lands."

The three recommended an assessment soon of Sealaska's land selections to look at the potential for endangered species listings.

It should be done before the end of the month when the bill is expected to be marked up or amended, Somerville said, because changes will be more difficult after that.

Sealaska is in search of better quality timber stands to log, Somerville said.

"What they are eyeing is high-volume old-growth," he said. "They make clear the reason they are doing it is that they are running out of sawable lumber."

Rick Harris, Sealaska's executive vice president, said the bill aims to preserve roadless areas, protect and reduce the cutting of old growth trees and accelerate the transition to harvesting second growth.

"We believe our legislation offers greater conservation gain," he said.

The Native corporation could choose 112,000 acres of productive old growth inside ANCSA boundaries but under the bill would want only about 40,000 acres, said Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, one of the bill's sponsors.

"Our hope is that that will satisfy the requirements of the goshawk and the wolf," he said.

Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said the governor received the letter Friday, and that both the letter and the bill are being reviewed.



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