Sealaska Land-Selection Legislation Draws Opposition

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Fifty-eight members of Congress have signed a letter opposing Sealaska’s lands-selection legislation.

The group of Democrats asked House committee leaders to keep the bill out of any larger public-lands measure. Supporters and opponents have said it’s most likely to pass as part of an omnibus lands bill.

The letter was released July 27th by the Alaska Wilderness League, based in Washington, D.C. It says the selections bill would, quote, “give the green light to industrial clear-cutting of the best remaining old growth in the United States.”

League spokeswoman Gwen Dobbs says the letter was spearheaded by Representatives Rosa DeLauro  of Connecticut and Raúl Grijalva of Arizona.

“We’re very much in support of these members of Congress coming forward and really showing leadership in terms of protecting our natural resource. And I think that we really commend them for coming out and asking their colleagues to protect the Tongass,” she says.

The bill would allow Sealaska to complete its land selections outside boundaries set by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The Southeast Native corporation and its supporters say the measure would boost the region’s economy and allow for a sustainable timber industry.

The letter was sent to the co-chairmen of the House Natural Resources Committee, the first stop for Don Young’s version of the bill.

Young was aware that the letter was being circulated. He sent his own letter discouraging colleagues from signing on. It said the legislation would not increase loss of old growth trees in the Tongass. He said, quote, “the legislation would preserve as much as 40,000 acres of roadless old growth timber … that could otherwise be harvested by Sealaska.”

The bill’s main focus has been in the Senate Resources Committee, where Lisa Murkowski’s version is undergoing changes.

Robert Dillon is Murkowski’s committee spokesman.

“She’s listening to stakeholders from all groups and local residents who are impacted by this bill or have interest in it. She’s not paying too much attention to liberals in Congress who are trying to stop Alaska legislation,” he says.

Murkowski released a series of amendments to the measure July 1st. Dillon says they are still under consideration and no hearing date has been set.

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