Nagging questions

Posted: Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Sen. Murkowski's Senate Bill 2222 would trade away approximately 12,000 acres of national forest land from the area of Slate Creek Cove, Lower Slate Lake, and Lion's Head Mountain in Berners Bay. In exchange, the public would gain mostly cutover or subsurface private land near Ketchikan.

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Senate panel approves Berners Bay land trade

Both the senator and Rick Richins, vice president of Coeur Alaska Inc., have recently graced this editorial page with their arguments as to why the bill is a good deal for the people of Juneau (July 19 and 28). What neither discussed are the merits of substituting Sen. Murkowski's bill with an environmental impact statement (EIS) that would be prepared by the U.S. Forest Service according to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements, and which would help Juneauites better understand the answers to persistent and nagging questions.

Two questions are the degree to which such a land trade would prevent Juneau residents and the clients of commercial tourism operators from enjoying the wildland characteristics of the area, and the degree to which new private landowners could legally log, otherwise develop, or restrict public access to what is now prime national forest wildland.

Another is what benefits the public would derive from trading mostly unlogged national forest land in Berners Bay for cutover private land near Ketchikan. There is also the question of what the highest and best public use is for Lower Slate Lake (which is not in Mr. Richin's words a "muskeg lake," itself a contradiction of words). An EIS would allow us to better understand how a land trade would benefit or degrade resident and anadromous fish habitats. It would help us understand how the land trade would affect habitats for critters like brown bear, black bear, beaver, moose, and mink - all of which my family and I have seen in just two days beach camping, skiffing, and kayaking in Slate Creek Cove.

Alaskans can do better than SB 2222. We can immediately ask Congress to put Sen. Murkowski's bill on hold until an EIS process is completed, the full effects - both positive and negative - of the bill are known, and the public has had a chance to participate in the process. The bill was scheduled for consideration in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for today. It is important to prevent the bill from prematurely getting past both the committee and the Senate floor this year.

Bruce Baker


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