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Sealaska Leadership Speaks Out For Land Legislation

JUNEAU, Alaska – The Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act, or S. 340, introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), is scheduled for a hearing on April 25 by the Public Lands Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. This Senate bill has been subject of a half dozen congressional hearings, and hundreds of amendments to address the concerns raised at myriad stakeholder meetings. S. 340 has garnered the support from a diverse array of conservation, business, tribal and local community interests. Sealaska leadership provides their insight on how this legislation is the best solution for stakeholders:

“This legislation is unique by blending conservation and protection of publically important places, while providing resources for sustainable jobs in economically deprived rural communities,” said Bill Thomas, Sealaska director, commercial fisherman and former Alaska State Representative. “It finds a sustainable balance among a variety of competing interests.”

Bruce Botelho, former mayor of the City and Borough of Juneau, Alaska stated, “Senator Murkowski, the conservation and business stakeholders of Southeast Alaska and Sealaska deserve a great deal of credit for working together to find the solution embodied in S. 340.”

Under S. 340, Sealaska receives only the acres Congress authorized under the 42-year-old Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act according to Albert Kookesh, chair of the Sealaska board. “This legislation allows Sealaska to be a positive economic contributor to our rural communities, and with Sealaska’s support guarantees the land received will remain open for public access for the benefit of sportsmen, recreationalists and subsistence users. This legislation provides unprecedented right to use Sealaska lands and grants a right these users would not have if Sealaska selected from the current withdrawals.”

This bill ensures that many national treasures that are currently available for Sealaska selection instead remain in public ownership. They will be removed from Sealaska selection rights with the legislation according to Sealaska Board Vice Chair Dr. Rosita Worl. “Under this legislation Sealaska will forego its selection rights to many publically important areas. The conservation benefits of this legislation goes beyond just a few truly unique areas by including 150,000 acres of newly designated conservation lands. Much of these lands were conservation priorities by regional conservation organizations and fishermen since the 1990 Tongass Timber Reform Act, which failed to include these recreationally and ecologically important areas in that legislation.” 

This legislation allows Sealaska to select the lands from areas that provide economic opportunities and without unnecessarily disrupting the Wildlife Conservation Strategy under the Tongass Land Management Plan according to Rick Harris, executive vice president of Sealaska. “The selections represent less than one percent impact to large tree-old growth areas,” he said. “After Sealaska’s selection, 76 percent of the original Tongass National Forest large tree forest lands remain intact and in a status of permanent preservation.” 

Sealaska partners with scientists and professors from Oregon State University, the University of Washington and government researchers to guide Sealaska’s land use practices to protect fish and wildlife habitat and create healthy forests according to Ron Wolfe, Sealaska natural resources manager. “Sealaska forest land and resource stewardship is the gold standard in Alaska”

“Many hunters and recreationalists seek harvested areas and managed forest stands such as those on Sealaska lands for the abundance of wildlife for viewing and hunting,” Wolfe added. “Some will claim that 30 years after timber harvest the land’s ability to support wildlife declines and remains very low for a century. The idea that young and advanced forests do not support wildlife is outdated and based on what happens on unmanaged and neglected forest lands—this does not apply to Sealaska managed lands.” 

The Western Governors’ Association, in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack, stated “We have been concerned for some time that federal forest lands throughout the West are experiencing serious environmental stresses that affect the health and vitality of these ecosystems. They are overgrown; they exhibit all the symptoms of an unhealthy ecosystem; and they demand urgent attention. Now is the time for the U.S. Forest Service to accelerate its efforts to promote sound forest management policies that maintain ecological balance.” None of these conditions exist on Sealaska lands, according to Sealaska President and CEO Chris E. McNeil Jr. “Sealaska has a proven track record of forest stewardship, and all of our forest and stand management practices are current with over $25 million invested in forest management. We are driven to provide for the health of our forests based on our Native values and the best science and we are proud of this performance.”

Sealaska, Values In Action
Sealaska has strengthened business with culture since 1972. We are a Native institution owned by more than 21,000 tribal member shareholders whose core cultural values guide all that Sealaska does and represent the rich heritage of our Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people. We live our values to build excellence in our Native enterprise and take action towards our purpose: to strengthen our people, culture and homelands.

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