Alaska Native vets from the Vietnam War era may lay claim to 160 acres

The BLM map of available land for veterans to select shows limited offerings now – shown in black – but the agency says it’s working to open up more than 13 million acres. (Map: BLM)

The Bureau of Land Management is trying to reach some 2,200 Alaska Native veterans to let them know they can lay claim to 160 acres apiece.

That’s because Congress approved a new Native allotment filing period for veterans who served during the Vietnam War era

“We believe many of the veterans have passed,” said BLM Deputy Director of Policy and Programs William Perry Pendley. “But their heirs are eligible for this, their spouses, and many of them are in the Lower 48. So we’re eager to get the word out.”

The Native Allotment program began in 1906, to give Indigenous people title to land they used or lived on. Congress ended the program in 1971, with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. 

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For years, Alaska’s congressman and senators have tried to reopen the program. They argue that thousands of veterans missed the opportunity to apply because they were serving in the military.

Vietnam-era vets got another crack at an allotment in 1998. That filing period didn’t work as intended.

“Members of Congress were very disappointed as a low number of those who applied,” Pendley said.

So this time, Congress opened the door wider. Now veterans don’t need to have any connection to the land they select.

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Environmentalists have warned the program is a pretext for getting public lands in private hands. They predicted developers would push vets to select parcels with commercial potential. But so far, BLM’s map of available land shows only small clusters in three distant parts of the state – the Fortymile area in the Interior; in the west, near Goodnews Bay; and nestled between glaciers near Yakutat.

Pendley said BLM is trying to unlock more land by clearing claims the State of Alaska made years ago that have languished. That would add up to 26 million acres to the pool of available land, a BLM spokeswoman said. The Fish and Wildlife Service may also make land eligible for selection.

The BLM says it will update the map as more land becomes available.

The agency is about to publish the draft rules of the program. Pendley said the government will also send letters in an attempt to notify all eligible vets and their heirs.

The application window will be open for five years.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included a quote from Pendley that misstated the potential acreage the BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service expect to make available for selection.