Sen. Murkowski Presses for Sealaska and Bering Straits Land Exchanges

Legislation Would Fulfill Promise of Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today pressed for passage of two bills that would help complete land conveyances promised under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) to Sealaska Corp. and Bering Straits Native Corp.

“Congress passed legislation in 1971 intended to promptly settle Native lands claims in Alaska, and allow them to benefit from their land,” Murkowski said. “But Bering Straits and Sealaska have been prevented for nearly four decades from taking title to the lands promised to them.”

In April, Murkowski introduced legislation that would allow Sealaska to select its remaining land entitlement of up to 85,000 acres. The legislation would permit Sealaska to select new acreage on and around Prince of Wales Island for timber development from a pool of about 78,000 acres; up to 5,000 acres of lands for non-timber development; and up to 3,600 acres for cultural and historic preservation.

In return, Sealaska would relinquish claim to roughly 327,000 acres of land selections in roadless and environmentally sensitive areas of the Tongass National Forest.

The Sealaska land proposal was revised several times to address the concerns of the corporation, local residents and communities, and environmental groups.

“In Alaska, where controversy abounds over land use, this hearing will hopefully clarify the outstanding issues, so that we can craft a final compromise that will meet all concerns,” Murkowski said.

The second land conveyance bill would finalize an agreement between the Bering Straits Native Corp., the state of Alaska and the U.S. Department of the Interior giving the corporation title to the last 145,728 acres it was promised under ANCSA.

Under the bill, the Native corporation would receive 1,009 acres in the Salmon Lake area north of Nome; 6,132 acres at Windy Cove, northwest of Salmon Lake; and 7,504 acres at Imuruk Basin.

In return, the corporation would relinquish rights to 3,084 acres at Salmon Lake to the federal government, which would then give part of that land to the state to maintain an airstrip in the area. The federal Bureau of Land Management would also retain ownership and administration of a 9-acre campground at the outlet of Salmon Lake, which provides public camping opportunities accessible from the Nome-Teller Highway. The agreement would also guarantee public access to BLM-managed lands in the Kigluaik Mountain Range.

The exchanges protect recreation and subsistence uses in the area, and, if approved by Congress, will end administrative appeals or litigation, producing a settlement of the land use issues.

“Alaska’s first people have waited long enough for the federal government to fulfill their promises,” Murkowski said. “Legitimate concerns exist and have been addressed in both of these cases, I feel confident we’ve reached suitable agreements that will allow the federal government to finally complete the land conveyances.”

After 38 years, there are still land conveyances to Native corporations pending. According to the BLM, as of this spring, 41 million acres of the 45 million of potential Native conveyances had been patented or tentatively conveyed, leaving more than 4 million acres pending any form of conveyance.

Some of the delays are simply caused by lack of funds for surveying, but others are caused by conflicts over cross selections of lands and disputes over timely filing of selections.

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