My Turn: Sealaska should pursue last of its land entitlement

Posted: Monday, September 07, 2009

I am a member of the Tongass Futures Roundtable and want to respond to recent allegations by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council regarding Sealaska Corp. and their land legislation.

The notion that Sealaska would abandon Tongass Futures Roundtable friends in a process so important to their traditional homeland is preposterous. Sealaska has participated genuinely and in good faith in the TFR process as they have in all previous political and administrative planning processes for the Tongass for decades. Support for this process should not be turned around until supporters are being held hostage by it.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed 37 years ago, and Sealaska has waited long enough for it to be completed fairly. It also has waited long enough Congress to fulfill its promise to create sustainable economies.

I support Sealaska moving forward with its land legislation now to ensure Sealaska's vital contribution to the region's economy. Sealaska's land legislation will help stabilize Southeast Alaska's industry and provide jobs.

Sealaska makes significant annual silviculture investments to create and enhance quality habitat for deer and other subsistence resources and to increase the growth rate of timber. They are properly managing their lands in the best interest of our communities and future generations, and it is imperative that Sealaska receive the last of its land entitlement, some 85,000 acres. Without it, time will run out and we will lose another 360 local jobs, payments to 350 Southeast Alaska businesses from Sealaska's annual spending, and other benefits of Sealaska's timber harvest. This can not be overlooked because Sealaska is one of the largest private employers in the region, and in some cases contributes as much as 12 percent of the per-capita income to communities.

TFR has been working for the past three years to find a comprehensive solution to Tongass issues. Unfortunately, this has not resulted in any significant agreements and has certainly done nothing to stabilize the timber supply for our industry that depends on timber sales from the Tongass National Forest. It is not realistic to expect Sealaska to wait for a process as unproven as TFR.

The complexity of the millions of acres of conservation additions that the conservationists want and the places for timber harvest, recreation, community needs and other uses for other forest users indicate a solution will continue to evade us for some time and costs associated with this collaboration will continue to mount. SEACC should not overstate what TFR might be able to accomplish because there is real concern that the TFR sponsor foundations may withdraw their funding support due to the nation's weak economy, differences of TFR opinion, general lack of progress and numerous statements by the public opposing TFR.

I believe Sealaska should move forward with their legislation, and history shows if there is a collaborative process that will benefit the region, Sealaska will certainly be present to contribute to strengthening Southeast Alaska for us all.

• Owen Graham is the Executive Director of Alaska Forest Association in Ketchikan.

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