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Let the third time be the charm for the Sealaska lands bill.
Lisa Murkowski has drafted a new bill, but before introducing it in the Senate, public meetings are scheduled in Ketchikan and Craig to acquire testimony from Southeast Alaskans.
It's likely testimony will prompt revisions to the bill.
McKie Campbell, former Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner and now the minority staff director of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, will conduct the meeting.
The Ketchikan meeting will be Monday; the Craig meeting Tuesday.
The Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act is designed to fulfill the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, by allowing Sealaska to select land from the Tongass National Forest outside the original act's selection boundaries.
The Native Claims act granted Sealaska Corp., the Native regional corporation which represents Southeast Natives — 20 percent of the region's population — 375,000 acres of the 16.9 million acres in the forest.
The idea was that the corporation would manage the land in a way to provide a livelihood for the Natives. As a result, it also benefits the entire region's economy. If the Natives do well, everyone else does all that much better in the region, too.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Native Claims act isn't the pertinent point. The fact is the feds made an agreement with the Natives, and should honor it, bringing the matter to a close.
As the case always will be when it comes to land, deciding which pieces should be conveyed to Sealaska is contentious.
Sealaska has asked for pieces outside of the original boundaries outlined in the Native Claims act, which is why a bill must be approved by Congress and signed by the President.
Proponents and opponents of every type of land use continue to weigh in. Advocates of natural resource development argue that transferring land into private ownership might enable easier access for various activities; some developers are concerned that their enterprises might be impaired by Sealaska ownership. Recreationalists want to preserve their playgrounds. Hunters want to be able to continue to harvest game. Environmentalists, including responsible developers, want to take care that no harm comes to the environment. It's no easy task trying to address the concerns of all interested parties, especially when some parties fall into more than one area of interest.
No one will be entirely pleased with the outcome. It's time to compromise.
New language in the bill defines the process for selection of Native sacred sites; guarantees public access to traditional trails; guarantees the State of Alaska's and the U.S. Forest Service's right to access roads and potential log transfer sites; removes Sealaska's rights to 765 acres around Karheen Cove and Karheen Lakes on Tuxekan Island to reduce timber harvest's effect on fisheries, while increasing timber harvest in other areas there and on Prince of Wales Island; and outlines the boundaries for conservation areas on Prince of Wales Island and Koscuisko Island.
Those changes are in addition to others made in June 2010, which resulted in eliminating 22,402 acres of possible Sealaska land selections to address concerns at Port Protection, Point Baker and Edna Bay. Protection of Naukati's natural spring and access to beach firewood also are addressed.
The bill also attempts to address concerns of the logging communities of Thorne Bay, Hydaburg and Kake, all of which wish to preserve potential for economic development.
Sealaska contributes significantly to the well-being of the region. It has spent $45 million in a single recent year, from which 350 businesses and organizations in 16 communities benefitted. It provides upwards of 350 jobs and a $15-million payroll. Its indirect effect on jobs and payroll increases those numbers to nearly 500 jobs and a $21-million payroll in Southeast.
Sen. Murkowski, along with Sen. Mark Begich and Congressman Don Young, and Sealaska are attuned to the concerns and economic needs of Southeast. It's obvious as the bill has been changed through the years that those are being taken seriously. The corporation and the communities will thrive together as a result.
The Sealaska bill didn't pass Congress in 2007 or 2009. This is the third effort. May it be the final one.
The two-hour meetings start at 4 p.m. Monday in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly chambers and at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Craig High School Auditorium.