Sen. Murkowski Advances Legislation Finalizing Sealaska Land Claims

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, last night announced a bipartisan and bicameral agreement she helped negotiate to advance a lands bill package, including legislation to complete the aboriginal land claims of the Sealaska Native Regional Corp.

Murkowski included the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act, which she originally introduced as S. 340, in the package of lands bills developed by Senate and House leaders. Both chambers are expected to consider the package as part of the National Defense Authorization Act before breaking for the Christmas recess.

The measure provides Sealaska Corp., the Alaska Native regional corp. for Southeast Alaska, with 70,075 acres to finalize transfer of land owed to the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian tribes under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).

“After decades of broken federal promises, we are finally close to delivering on the promise of ANCSA for thousands of Southeast Alaska residents,” Murkowski said. “This has been a difficult process because every acre of the Tongass is precious to someone, but we have worked tirelessly with all stakeholders to address concerns. I truly believe all of that work has resulted in legislation that will help the region’s timber industry, while at the same time protecting more than 150,000 acres for fisheries and habitat.”

Under ANCSA, which extinguished aboriginal land claims in Alaska, Sealaska was entitled to an estimated 375,000 acres of the 16.9-million acre Tongass National Forest to help improve the livelihoods of its shareholders. Yet the federal government has never made good on its promise.

Sealaska is currently owed some 85,000 acres, but under the compromise worked out by Murkowski, the Native corp. will accept about 15,000 acres less in exchange for 68,400 acres available for timber development, 1,099 acres for renewable energy resources and recreational tourism projects, and 490 acres of Native cemetery and historic sites.

The measure also places 152,067 acres of old-growth timber in new conservation areas to protect salmon and wildlife habitat.

“We took great care to fulfill the promises made to Sealaska shareholders, while at the same time addressing the concerns of all Southeast residents who utilize the Tongass for everything from subsistence to fisheries and recreation,” Murkowski said. “The bill ensures public access and protects key salmon streams. It also creates new habitat conservation areas.”

The legislation also reinstates Michael Faber to the shareholder rolls of the Sealaska corp. Faber had lost his shareholder status due to a federal clerical error while he was serving overseas in the U.S. Military.

Another provision within the lands package includes language allowing the Olgoonik Native Corp. of Wainwright to acquire the former Air Force defense site – 1,518 acres located next to the North Slope village – for economic development.

The package also includes a provision to allow the municipality of Anchorage to sell the Egan Convention Center property and two other parcels of land in downtown Anchorage for redevelopment.

The package would also streamline Bureau of Land Management permitting for oil and natural gas on federal lands in Alaska and nationwide.

“This package includes important provisions for Alaska and strikes a good balance between economic opportunity and conservation,” Murkowski said. “We have worked hard to develop a balanced package that will increase resource production and provide new economic opportunities for our communities.”