U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today unveiled a new version of legislation to allow Southeast Alaska's Sealaska Native Regional Corp. to complete the aboriginal land claims selections promised its shareholders 42 years ago under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).
The revised Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act establishes where and how Sealaska may select 70,075 acres of land owed to it under ANCSA. The legislation is cosponsored by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.
"It has taken years of negotiating with stakeholders and listening to public concerns to reach this point, but I believe the revisions have resulted in a stronger bill," Murkowski said. "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. That is unprecedented."
The bill is designed to steer Sealaska's timber harvesting activities toward second-growth timber, areas that already contain roads and existing timber infrastructure, and minimize impact on old-growth timber stands.
In all, Sealaska would receive about 68,400 acres of land for timber development, about 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 places 152,000 acres in national conservation areas to further protect old growth and important aquatic resources.
The legislation also provides Sealaska with selection rights to 490 acres to protect Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian traditional burial and historically significant land parcels.
"We took great care to fulfill the promises made to Sealaska shareholders, while at the same time addressing the concerns of all Southeast residents who utilize the Tongass for everything from subsistence to fisheries to recreation," Murkowski said.
The revised 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, and addresses the U.S. Forest Service's request to retain lands deemed important for its transition to focus on young-growth timber transition strategy in the Tongass.
"It has taken years to work through the many concerns about this bill. This is truly a compromise. But it finally gets Sealaska its lands and protects fisheries and wildlife," Murkowski said.
The revised bill, including revised maps showing all the large and small economic parcels, is available here, on Murkowski's personal office website.
Congress approved ANCSA nearly four decades ago to settle the aboriginal land claims of Alaska Natives. Under a complicated land conveyance formula, Sealaska was entitled to roughly 375,000 acres of the 16.9-million acre Tongass National Forest to help improve the livelihoods of their 20,000 shareholders. That promise has never been fulfilled.
In contrast to every other Alaska Native corporation, Sealaska's original selection areas were limited because much of Southeast Alaska was under contract to the pulp mills and unavailable when ANCSA passed. While there are 327,000 acres in those original areas still available for selection, 44 percent of that is under water and much of the rest is in village watersheds.
Of the 112,000 acres of old-growth timber still available within those areas, 61,000 acres are in old-growth reserves -- areas considered unacceptable for development on environmental grounds -- and much of the land is located in the 277,000 acres currently designated as "roadless" areas by the U.S. Forest Service.