U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Public Lands Subcommittee in support of legislation to complete the aboriginal land claims promised to shareholders of the Sealaska Native Regional Corp. more than 40 years ago under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).
"The primary purpose of the Sealaska legislation is simple: it settles the outstanding aboriginal land claims under the ANCSA," Murkowski said. "We have made more than 175 changes to the bill over the last two years to address the majority of the concerns raised by local communities and interested stakeholders. I think these changes have vastly improved the bill from the 2008 original. I know this latest version won't make everyone happy, but it is a fair, equitable and workable solution to the complicated land patterns in Alaska's Panhandle."
The revised Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act (S.340) establishes where and how Sealaska may select 70,075 acres of land owed to it under ANCSA.
The bill steers Sealaska's timber harvesting activities toward second-growth timber, areas where roads and other infrastructure already exists, to minimize any potential impact on old-growth timber in the Tongass.
Under the proposal, Sealaska would receive about 68,400 acres of land for timber development, and an additional 1,099 acres for other economic development projects, such as hydroelectric generation and marine hydrokinetic activity, and tourism near the communities of Yakutat, Kake and Hydaburg.
The bill also places 152,000 acres into conservation areas to further protect old-growth timber and important aquatic resources.
"This legislation will finally deliver on the promise the federal government made to Southeast Alaska Natives in 1971. At the same time, it ensures continued public access to the lands Sealaska selects," Murkowski said.
This version of the bill removes some 26,000 acres of land selections on northern Prince of Wales Island. Language has also been added to create buffers along key fisheries and anchorage areas for fishermen. The bill also addresses the U.S. Forest Service's request to retain lands deemed important for its transition to second-growth timber in the Tongass.