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Ketchikan has seen better days when it comes to the state Legislature.

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Hazel Lydia Snapp, 70, died Nov. 17, 2014, in Seattle.
3/1/2014
Timber land bill

Let's be like the original 13 colonies.

At least when it comes to land ownership.

The colonies claim next to no federal ownership of land; the land is mostly owned by the state, local government, Indian and private interests.

Name any one of the colonies, except for New Hampshire, and 10 percent or less of each state is owned by the federal government. The feds own less than 1 percent in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York, according to the Congressional Research Service. New Hampshire is 13.5 percent federal ownership. Still, much less than western states.

Alaska land is nearly 70 percent federally owned; second only to Nevada, with federal ownership just under 85 percent.

It's all well and good for states to allow for national parks. But, the land should be available for Alaskans, or the inhabitants of other states, for economic development and to establish quality lives.

With that in mind, Sen. Bert Stedman of Sitka has drafted a resolution urging Gov. Sean Parnell to seek an amendment to the Alaska Statehood Act. The amendment would result in state acquisition — either by purchase or negotiation — of land in the Tongass National Forest.

In the statehood act, Alaska was entitled to 103 million acres to become self-supporting economically. The state selected its land, with the exception of 5.5 million acres.

Stedman would like the state to acquire at least some of that additional land in the Tongass National Forest, specifically the northern end of Prince of Wales Island, to revive Southeast Alaska's timber industry.

The industry thrived from the 1950s to the early 1990s. The late '90s saw the closure of two pulp mills, and closure of most sawmill operations followed. Old-growth harvest is essentially non-existent, but interest flickers for developing a second-growth industry.

To accomplish that, timber must be made available.

Currently, 40 percent of the Tongass is off limits to commercial purposes; thanks to Congress. The U.S. Forest Service has set aside another 58 percent, leaving 2 percent for timber harvest.

Ninety-one percent of the old growth in the Tongass remains standing; 9 percent has been harvested and will be replaced by second growth in about 30 years.

In the meantime, a timber industry is still valuable to the economic well-being of Southeast. The main obstruction to industry jobs is lack of available timber.

An economically viable supply has been denied to Alaska through a Washington, D.C.-sanctioned Tongass Land Management Plan and countless lawsuits against sales.

Plus, the statehood act limits land selection in the Tongass and Chugach National Forest to 400,000 acres, none of which may be for timber harvest; it is designated for recreation and community expansion.

Stedman's resolution calls for the governor to negotiate with the feds for additional entitlement land, and if that doesn't occur, then to outright purchase land in order to revitalize the timber industry.

To that, we say: Amen.