Proposed Changes to Sealaska Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following a dozen town meetings and the review of hundreds of comments and suggestions, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski today presented her recommendations for changes in a bill to permit the Sealaska Native Regional Corp. to finalize its ANCSA land selections in Southeast Alaska.

Murkowski is proposing a major rewrite of the bill, removing all lands on northern Prince of Wales Island from possible timber selection to meet the concerns of Port Protection and Point Baker residents. She has reduced harvesting on Koscuisko Island to meet the concerns of Edna Bay residents, and has reduced harvesting by 40 percent at Keete to meet the concerns of some over wildlife impacts of the bill. She also has proposed to add about 150,000 acres of lands into conservation areas to offset impacts from timber development in the southern Tongass National Forest.

Murkowski is proposing to eliminate 17 of 46 proposed “Futures Sites,” other land selections for Sealaska to diversify out of timber and mining operations and into ecotourism and renewable energy development, to satisfy local recreation and fishery concerns. And she is proposing to add nearly two dozen amendments to protect continued public access. She is also deleting two provisions that had raised concerns that the bill might somehow affect the definition of Indian Country in Alaska.

“I knew that reaching a consensus on this bill would be exceptionally difficult since every acre in the Tongass is subject to competing demands. Still these revisions to the bill address the vast majority of the concerns expressed by Prince of Wales Island and other Southeast residents. The changes, based on a wide variety of input, addresses the desire of both Point Baker and Port Protection residents and mill operators in Thorne Bay and Klawock to prevent reductions in the private-sector timber base on northern Prince of Wales.

“The bill addresses most of the complaints received about the bill from Sitka, Tenakee, Juneau, Ketchikan and Craig residents about the proposed Future Sites. It meets many of the concerns about the impacts of timber on fisheries by adding twice the acreage that could be impacted by logging into protected areas to guarantee salmon habitat in the future. And it addresses a host of access concerns repeatedly voiced during local town meetings. The revised bill probably won’t make everyone totally happy, but it attempts to resolve most of the main complaints,” said Murkowski, who continues to welcome comment regarding the proposal.

Background and Avoided Impact: The bill is the result of the fact that Sealaska can’t complete its aboriginal land selections guaranteed the corporation by the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act unless it selects lands outside of the remaining acreages allowed the corporation in 1971. That is because Congress previously had prevented the corporation from selecting lands along the Situk River corridor south of Yakutat. Selecting many additional lands within the original selection “boxes” would also impact municipal watersheds, have fishery impacts and likely have greater environmental impacts than conveyance of these revised selections.

“Given that Sealaska’s more than 20,000 shareholders are promised their lands under law, this bill is vital to minimize the impacts of those selections,” said Murkowski, who hopes to bring the revised bill before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for its review later this summer.

Development Land Changes: The revised bill, reflecting suggestions from a proposal by Prince of Wales Island leaders, fishermen, groups and others, calls for Sealaska to give up rights to select lands in the Red Bay, Buster Creek and Labouchere Bay drainages on northern Prince of Wales. The reduction of those 22,402 acres protects several old-growth preserves, protects beach fringe, subsistence hunting drainages and fishery areas of importance to the island’s northern communities.

The bill seeks to meet the economic concerns of Thorne Bay residents by maintaining the amount of public lands available for logging in the Thorne Bay ranger district, while it meets the need of Hydaburg residents by allowing some additional logging on the central portion of the island. And it attempts to meet the concerns of Kake residents by maintaining the potential for economic development on northern Kuiu Island. It balances environmental protection against the need for economic development.

The bill also addresses Koscuisko Islanders concerns by reducing the timber harvest for Sealaska on the island by 6,079 acres, removing old-growth closest to Edna Bay to protect subsistence hunting, removing lands on the southern island south of Cape Pole and along the western coast to protect fishermen anchorages, and on the northern island to protect Shipley Bay and Mount Francis. The change protects the town’s spring needed in dry weather, guarantees beach fringe for personal use firewood and should protect areas used by nearby Naukati residents.

The bill also removes two of five proposed harvest areas at Keete on the central island, protecting 3,070 acres at Mabel Bay and Kassa.

In order to allow Sealaska to complete its entitlement of commercial forest land, the bill increases harvesting on Tuxekan Island, in areas south and west of Polk Inlet, at McKenzie Inlet to the east and in an area south of 12 Mile Arm, all on the central part of the Prince of Wales. The revised bill also calls for 13,000 acres of new land to be permitted for logging on northern Kuiu Island between Saginaw and Security Bays and allows selections to continue at Calder and North Election Creek.

The bill, in return for these changes in timber lands, creates conservation areas to prevent logging on about 150,000 acres on Kuiu, Koscuisko and Prince of Wales Island. The bill specifically protects the Sarkar Lakes area from logging on Prince of Wales, protects the Honker Divide canoe route along the Thorne River, protects coho salmon habitat near Eek Lake near Hydaburg, and protects key areas on Goat and Sukkwan Islands. It also protects about 11,000 acres of karst formations on Prince of Wales and Koscuisko Islands – meaning the revised bill protects nearly 18,000 acres of karst formations compared to the original bill.

Future Sites: Future Sites are areas Sealaska would be allowed to select throughout the Panhandle to allow it to diversify into non-timber enterprises. The amended bill deletes a host of sites to satisfy local and fishery concerns: Lacy’s Cove in Icy Straits, Crab Bay near Tenakee, Bock Bight near Petersburg, Big Bay south of Sitka, Young Bay near Juneau, False Island and Upper Tenakee Inlet near Tenakee, Behm Narrows near Ketchikan, Tlevak Narrows/Turn Point, Port Refugio Village, Ridge Island Village, Tonowek Narrows/Arena Cove, and Cordova Bay near Prince of Wales Island, Port Houghton and Walter Island, and Pybus Bay south of Juneau. These deletions are in addition to previous ones at Kalinin Bay, Poison Bay, Ellis Point Bay, Halibut Harbor, Security Cove, and Willian Henry Bay.

The bill leaves only the remaining sites open for Sealaska’s selection:

Sites inside original selection areas:

1. Chicago Harbor near Yakutat, 258 acres.

2. Khantaak Island Group near Yakutat, 1,054 acres.

3. Redfield Lake near Yakutat, 276 acres.

4. Cannon Beach near Yakutat, 280 acres.

5. Upper River, south of Yakutat near the Situk, 81 acres.

6. Ahrnklin River, south of Yakutat, 81 acres.

7. Harlequin Lake, south of Yakutat, 128 acres.

8. Dry Bay Village, north of Glacier Bay, 59 acres.

19. Eleanor Island, north of Yakutat, 48 acres.

48. Crab Island Village at Yakutat, 4 acres.

24. Keku Island near north Kuiu Island, 806 acres.

16. Coho Cove, southeast of Ketchikan, 29 acres.

50. Turnabout Island Village, south of Admiralty Island, 74 acres.

Renewable energy sites: tidal, small hydro, geothermal:

28. South Inian Pass, Point Lavina side, 20 acres

29. South Inian Pass, Inian East, 20 acres.

51. Josephine Lake, near Keete, 40 acres.

52. Spring Creek Hot Springs on Cleveland Peninsula, 40 acres.

53. Pegmatite Mountain near Pelican, 40 acres.


17. Whitestone Harbor, NE Chichagof Island near Hoonah, 315 acres.


13. Burnett Inlet, south Etolin Island near Wrangell, 16 acres.

14 Blake Channel near Petersburg, 23 acres.

15. Dog Cove, north of Ketchikan, 30 acres.

21 Rodman Bay, west of Angoon on Baranof Island, 31 acres.

22 Sinitsin Cove, south of Sitka, 46 acres.

26. Shrimp Bay, north of Ketchikan near Misty Fjords, 229 acres.

49 Port Camden Village on Kuiu Island, 104 acres.

40 Jackson Island Seasons Village on S. Sukkwan Island, 20 acres.

41. Aston Island Village on north Dall Island, 29 acres.

43. Seagull Creek Village, south of Hoonah, 47 acres.

44. Holkam Bay Village, near entrance to Tracy Arm, 44 acres.

45 Saginaw Village on northern Kuiu Island, 89 acres.

Sacred, Traditional, Cultural and Educational Sites: The revised bill deletes the site of the Hidden Falls Fish Hatchery and drops all sacred sites in Glacier Bay National Park to meet the concerns of the Hoonah Native Association and the National Parks and Conservation Association.

Another amendment restricts any use of the sacred sites to historic or educational purposes and requires that they be managed in the same way as surrounding lands. Thus all sites in wilderness areas will continue to be governed by wilderness regulations.

Access: The bill always required Sealaska to provide the public access for subsistence and recreational hunting, fishing and hiking across its new economic development/timber lands, and to guarantee public access to all roads and trails within its selection areas. The revised bill, besides requiring public access on all existing (Section 17(b) and 14 (g)) easements also guarantees access across Future and sacred sites for fishermen and hikers for any legal purpose. The bill provides for access for utility corridors on and across customary trade and migration routes. And the bill provides additional access to sacred sites, not following an existing trail or easement, when there is “no reasonable alternative” for access across the property without a new trail.

Indian Country: The revised bill removes the ability for Sealaska to gain grants from the National Historic Preservation Act and from the Tribal Forest Protection Act to manage its lands since the concern had been expressed that making a Native corporation eligible for such grants could impact the legal issues surrounding the definition of “Indian Country” in Alaska.

Guides: The revised bill also guarantees that existing tour, bear, fish and other outdoor guiding services will receive an additional extension on their current Forest Service permits to conduct commercial activities on forest lands after Sealaska receives the lands – provided the operator meets all current Forest Service requirements. That will prevent commercial interests from facing the loss of business income for up to two decades.

Conveyances: To address concerns that Sealaska’s conveyances might interrupt the process for completing Alaska Statehood and ANCSA conveyances, the bill requires that Sealaska largely obtain its timber land conveyances within two years, but subjects all of the Future and sacred sites to a “mutually agreeable” timetable for government conveyance.

Another amendment that limits to 15 years the time for Sealaska to make its final sacred site selections to use up the remainder of the 3,600 acres of such selections it is promised by the bill. That gives the corporation time for future archeological work in the region to prove the location of sites. The bill requires that only sites that meet the historic definition of sacred sites under ANCSA be conveyed to the corporation and that the size of the conveyance be the smallest possible to protect the historic nature of the sites.

MAPS: Maps showing the new timber development lands, the habitat conservation areas, the future sites and better scaled maps to better depict the location of all sacred sites created by the bill will be posted to Senator Murkowski’s personal office website soon.

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