Feds Turning Tongass Land Over To Sealaska

Sealaska Corp. gets its new land on Friday.

The federal Bureau of Land Managementwill sign paperwork that day turning over 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to the corporation.

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The agency’s Ramona Chinn says the land must still be surveyed and patented. But as of Friday, it’s Sealaska’s.

Sealaska Plaza, the corporation's headquarters.
Sealaska Plaza, the corporation’s headquarters.

“It’s a milestone for the land-transfer program. Sealaska is one of 12 regions and this would finalize their entitlement,” Chinn says.

Federal legislation passed late last year turned the land over to the Juneau-based regional Native corporation. Sealaska gave up the right to select other lands in Southeast, under terms of 1971’s Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Erika Reed says Sealaska prioritized which of the new parcels it wants first.

“We are going to be able to, we think, depending on the budget, survey the first two priorities this year. But assuming we maintain a stable budget, it will probably take us about five years to survey all 18 parcels,” she says.

The full process will take about eight years.

About 3,400 acres of old-growth forest on the Cleveland Peninsula and Prince of Wales Island’s North Election Creek are at the top of the list.

Sealaska has said logging could begin this year, but it’s not a firm decision. The parcels are near other corporation land with logging infrastructure.

Sealaska can also take over up to 76 tracts of cemetery and other historic sites in the Tongass totaling no more than 490 acres.

No timeline is set for that process.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.