My turn: Sealaska land grab clearly a bridge to nowhere

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tax-sensitive Americans recall the Bridge to Nowhere.

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What could be worse for Alaska's image, especially before an election?

A clear-cut land grab, this time by the Sealaska regional Native corporation could be far worse not just for taxpayers or the environment, but a downright offense to every wolf, raven, eagle, bear and salmon which inhabit northern Prince of Wales Island.

Seen from almost 11 miles up, northern Prince of Wales Island is larger than San Francisco. Point Baker is at the bottom of the picture, Salmon Bay is on the far left and Mount Calder is on the right. Taxpayers subsidized $200 million to $300 million, in today's dollars, for roads and other improvements between 1975 and 2001. About half the timber was logged restricting bear and deer habitat.

Sealaska wants to acquire title from the federal government to all remaining timber lands from Red Bay to Calder Bay, roughly 85,000 acres, excluding mountain tops and muskeg.

There is no doubt Sealaska's timber base has shrunk. But why?

Sealaska acquired title to a large tract of land, almost all of it, by law, to come from an area on central Prince of Wales Island.

All but 85,000 acres of that allotment has been exported, mostly as round logs unprocessed by American workers.

Massive clearcuts were chopped from near the tops of mountains to close to the ocean. Clearcuts on national forest lands this large are prohibited. The scale of clearcutting has upset some villagers in Klawock, Kassan, Hydaberg, and Craig. The word is they don't want any more clearcutting in their back yards.

So what is a muti-hundred-million-dollar corporation to do? Why try to grab land far from their shareholders' villages, that's what.

In this case, Sealaska wants to log the high-volume trees left standing. If past behavior is a measure of future conduct, they will strip every last tree that is left on the landscapes.

Wolf, bear, eagle, raven and deer will be pushed onto smaller and smaller tracts until, like quicksand, the clearcuts swallow them.

Byron Mallot, the CEO of Sealaska, gave Hawaiians two large trees for the catamaran that came to Juneau about 10 years back. When he sat in it in Hawaii for the first time, he cried out, "These trees are alive."

How is it that a great spirituality can be projected over dead totem poles, carved masks, wall screens and floating boat logs while, at the same time, whole forests now can be mowed down, after Sealaska has become a prosperous profit-making corporation? Has the corporation no shame that it has taken away the forest canopy that houses the symbols of its clans?

• Alan Stein is the former director of the Salmon Bay Protective Association, a coalition of commercial fishermen, canneries and subsistence users. He lives in Mendocino, Calif.

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