Sealaska lands bill on cusp of passing

At long last, the complicated and controversial Sealaska lands bill is on the cusp of passing Congress. The bill, along with other lands claims, was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, which is expected to land on the president’s desk before the Christmas break. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski sponsored the bill, and Sen. Mark Begich was a co-sponsor.

The compromise measure transfers about 70,000 of the 375,000 acres of timberland owed to Sealaska Corp. under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Most of the land will be used for logging, some of it in the Tongass National Forest, hence the push-back from environmentalists. About 2,000 acres will be used for renewable energy resources and recreational tourism projects, and 490 acres for Native cemetery and historic sites.

The measure also places 152,067 acres of old-growth timber in new conservation areas to protect salmon and wildlife habitat.

Also in the bill: Wainwright’s Olgoonik Native Corp. will be able to acquire the 1,518 acres that make up a former Air Force defense site. It will now be used for economic development. It allows Anchorage to sell the Egan Convention Center property and two other parcels of land downtown Anchorage for redevelopment, and streamlines BLM permitting for oil and gas on federal lands.

Below are releases from both Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich on the measures:

Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s release:

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, last night announced a bipartisan and bicameral agreement she helped negotiate to advance a lands bill package, including legislation to complete the aboriginal land claims of the Sealaska Native Regional Corp.

Murkowski included the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act, which she originally introduced as S. 340, in the package of lands bills developed by Senate and House leaders. Both chambers are expected to consider the package as part of the National Defense Authorization Act before breaking for the Christmas recess.

The measure provides Sealaska Corp., the Alaska Native regional corp. for Southeast Alaska, with 70,075 acres to finalize transfer of land owed to the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian tribes under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).

“After decades of broken federal promises, we are finally close to delivering on the promise of ANCSA for thousands of Southeast Alaska residents,” Murkowski said. “This has been a difficult process because every acre of the Tongass is precious to someone, but we have worked tirelessly with all stakeholders to address concerns. I truly believe all of that work has resulted in legislation that will help the region’s timber industry, while at the same time protecting more than 150,000 acres for fisheries and habitat.”

Under ANCSA, which extinguished aboriginal land claims in Alaska, Sealaska was entitled to an estimated 375,000 acres of the 16.9-million acre Tongass National Forest to help improve the livelihoods of its shareholders. Yet the federal government has never made good on its promise.

Sealaska is currently owed some 85,000 acres, but under the compromise worked out by Murkowski, the Native corp. will accept about 15,000 acres less in exchange for 68,400 acres available for timber development, 1,099 acres for renewable energy resources and recreational tourism projects, and 490 acres of Native cemetery and historic sites.

The measure also places 152,067 acres of old-growth timber in new conservation areas to protect salmon and wildlife habitat.

“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 and recreation,” Murkowski said. “The bill ensures public access and protects key salmon streams. It also creates new habitat conservation areas.”

The legislation also reinstates Michael Faber to the shareholder rolls of the Sealaska corp. Faber had lost his shareholder status due to a federal clerical error while he was serving overseas in the U.S. Military.

Another provision within the lands package includes language allowing the Olgoonik Native Corp. of Wainwright to acquire the former Air Force defense site – 1,518 acres located next to the North Slope village – for economic development.

The package also includes a provision to allow the municipality of Anchorage to sell the Egan Convention Center property and two other parcels of land in downtown Anchorage for redevelopment.

The package would also streamline Bureau of Land Management permitting for oil and natural gas on federal lands in Alaska and nationwide.

“This package includes important provisions for Alaska and strikes a good balance between economic opportunity and conservation,” Murkowski said. “We have worked hard to develop a balanced package that will increase resource production and provide new economic opportunities for our communities.”

 Sen. Mark Begich’s press release: 

U.S. Senator Mark Begich praised an agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators on a broad package of lands and resources measures nearly six years in the making. The agreement, included in theNational Defense Authorization Act of 2015, contains Alaska-specific provisions that will make final Sealaska’s land entitlement under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.  That provision allows Sealaska to select approximately 70,000 acres of land and gain title to important historic and sacred sites while preserving extraordinary public access to these private lands for hunting and other activities.

Additionally, among many other provisions, it places approximately 150,000 acres elsewhere in the Tongass National Forest in protected status.

“While this overall bill and this package are not perfect, through negotiation and hard work, we have been able to move forward on development interests that advance Alaska’s economy,” said Begich. “This is a big win for Alaska and the regional economies in Southeast and Northwest Alaska.”

In addition to the Sealaska legislation, the lands package includes two other beneficial Alaska provisions, one affects lands owned by the Municipality of Anchorage and another relates to a former Air Force site in Northwest Alaska.

The bill requires the federal government to sell, at fair market value, the former Wainwright DEW line site to the Olgoonik Corporation, Wainwright’s Alaska Native Village Corporation. The lande will be used as a staging area, ensuring Alaska villages have a stake in the economic opportunities provided by offshore oil and gas development, while protecting other sites in the area from additional development.

“I am proud of my work with my colleagues in the Alaska Delegation to bring these important Alaska priorities across the finish line. This is what happens when we, as a Congress and as Alaskans work together,” Begich continued. “I have no higher priority than empowering Alaska Native Corporations to improve the rural Alaska economy, and it’s great to see these measures near the finish line.”

Finally, the package relinquishes the federal government’s reversionary interest in three parcels owned by the Municipality of Anchorage, allowing the city to sell or trade the property in order to advance other public purposes.

The last omnibus lands package passed Congress in January 2009, and numerous lands issues important to states and regions across the country have not been settled with legislation since that time.


7 thoughts on “Sealaska lands bill on cusp of passing

  1. Brad Fluetsch

    Thanks AH HA! Let us hope without Sealaska stealing the spotlight, we can get Senator Murkowski and Sullivan to push for the Landless Villages land settlement.

  2. Billiam

    Lisa Murkowski could never have gotten that bill passed without Mark Begich in the Senate. They are lucky it’s passing soon because with Dan Sullivan in the Senate, the bill will be DOA. Unfortunately there are a lot of future Alaska issues that will die because there is no Democrat to speak to the other side.

  3. AH HA

    And forty odd years later the Native villages in Haines, Tenakee, Petersburg, Ketchikan and Wrangell are still landless and will remain so.

    A special thanks to Al and Bill over at SEALASKA who were so instrumental in making sure that the villages remain landless…

    Also a special Thanks to Lisa and Mark!

  4. CPG49

    Lisa Murkowski, once again, came thru for Alaska. Her leadership on this issue is what closed the deal. Congratulations and thank you to Senator Murkowski.

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