Bill is bad

Letter to the editor

Posted: Monday, September 27, 2004

There is a bill that Sen. Murkowski wants to pass that will needlessly cut off access to public lands. Her super-complex Alaska Lands Transfer Acceleration Act is meant to settle all outstanding Alaska land claims but ends up cutting the public out of land settlements. That bill is such a boat full of holes that it should be scuttled. It seems like Ms. Murkowski is desperate to pass anything, no matter how bad, just to prove she can. She should not fast-track this bill in any way, and should check back in with those average Alaskans she is supposed to represent to see what we say.

While there is merit in finalizing outstanding land entitlements to due parties, this bill goes too far afield from settling rightful claims. It makes substantial changes to past legislation that took years of negotiation and deliberation, such as the Native Allotment Act, the Statehood Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the Alaska Native Settlement Claims Act.

A bill of this magnitude must run the full course of public education and hearings, and be understood by all Alaskans before going to the floor of the Senate without debate. The public has not been given enough information to understand the complexities, problems and options for solutions. Ms. Murkowski's actions underestimate the intelligence of the public to make well-informed decisions about their land holdings.

If the bill passes, the secretary of the interior will be vested with the authority and power to make all the decisions about land entitlements and uses allowed on public lands without public input. The bill also allows the secretary to subjectively increase state and Native regional corporation land entitlements without limits.

For example, the Bureau of Land Management has estimated that Sealaska's remaining claim is about 35,000-40,000 acres, while the bill would give them around 60,000 acres. To Southeast Alaskans that means that thousands of acres of community-use lands - including congressionally protected Tongass National Forest lands such as the Outside Islands would be needlessly privatized. We lose access - get locked out of private lands, which usually bristle with "no trespassing" and "no hunting" signs.

The bill is a wildfire out of control, with no limits on what it will consume. Ms. Murkowski needs to drop this bill for now, and get back to Alaska to find out how to really speed up land claim settlements without harming those who use our public lands.

Anissa Berry

Port Alexander

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