Congress is being asked to let a private corporation claim lucrative old-growth timber and valuable recreation sites in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.
The corporation seeking the land is Sealaska, a for-profit Alaska Native-owned corporation created by the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. As part of that landmark legislation, Sealaska received rights to select more than 350,000 acres of public land from the Tongass.
To fulfill its entitlement from 40 years ago, Sealaska retains the rights to select approximately 70,000 additional acres of Tongass land from sites determined under ANILCA. But the corporation sees little viable timber remaining in those regions, and seeks instead to choose old-growth forest and high value young-growth forest outside of the areas defined by current law. In past selections, the company’s priority was mostly large stands of old-growth forest, which have been primarily clearcut and exported. The corporation has stated that it is running out of profitable timber to cut.
Sealaska’s lands bill (S. 881 – sponsored by Senator Murkowski) would likely not pass as stand-alone legislation. However, reports from Washington D.C. indicate it may be included as part of a larger public lands bills protecting areas in the Lower 48.
Sealaska deserves to get the last of the land it is due from the 1971 settlement – but its current proposal fails to consider the impacts it will have on fish & wildlife habitat, existing sawmills that depend on Forest Service timber supplies, and communities near the proposed land selection. ACF grantees are working in support of a broader solution that would make Sealaska’s land base whole while addressing the concerns of key stakeholders in the region.