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I am writing about the Sealaska land transfer bill, which is legislation to transfer public Tongass National Forest lands, currently managed for multiple use, to the Sealaska Corp. The bill would allow Sealaska to take the lands into private management. These lands are currently subsistence and personal use areas, contain internationally recognized karst and cave features, and are used by local small businesses in the ecotourism and sport fishing industries.
There is an ongoing collaborative process, most visible in the Tongass Futures Roundtable, that includes Sealaska, industry, state agencies, the Forest Service, conservation groups, policy makers and local community leaders. These people, representing a diverse set of opinions and positions, are discussing and acting on the land use issues that will allow the timber industry to transition to a sustainable future in Southeast Alaska. Sealaska and its remaining land claims are an integral part of this future.
By pushing the proposed legislation, Sealaska is signaling its intent to go it alone and has abandoned its potential allies in the collaborative process, many of whom fully support the finalizing of Sealaska's land claims.
Sealaska should feel lonely. There is no local support for this legislation other than those few employees and shareholders with a direct financial interest in the corporation's short-term profit. Communities as diverse as Thorne Bay, Edna Bay and Port Protection have passed resolutions opposing the bills. Hundreds of Prince of Wales residents have signed letters and petitions opposing the bills. No industry groups or agencies have come out in favor of the bills. National, regional and local conservation groups also are opposed.
I urge Sealaska not to desert its friends in the collaborative process, and to work together to find a solution that can be supported by a wide range of interests. Sealaska recently asked for and received a delay in the congressional hearing schedule to make much needed changes to its proposal. Rep. Don Young and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich should seek to further delay these bills until Sealaska's remaining land claims can be resolved inside the bigger, broader process that addresses the needs of all of Southeast Alaska, not just those of a few individuals.
Southeast Alaska Conservation Council