Last week, Senator Murkowski scheduled a legislative hearing for February 7, 2018, before the Senate Energy Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining. Senator Mike Lee of Utah chairs this subcommittee and Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is the ranking Democrat. The hearing’s purpose is to receive testimony on 15 bills, including S. 1481, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Improvement Act (ANCSA).
As currently drafted, S.1481 perpetuates the problematic and limiting western corporate model originally imposed on Alaska Natives by ANCSA. This model has historically created an economic imperative for Native Corporations in Southeast to pursue short-term resource extraction policies centered on logging corporate lands.
Our biggest concern with this current version of the bill is the threat it poses to lands previously designated by Congress for permanent protection in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, the Tongass Timber Reform Act of 1990, and the Sealaska Land Entitlement Finalization Act of 2014.
The most recent laws designated nearly 900,000 acres of roadless wildlands (Legislated Land Use Designation or “LUD” IIs) for perpetual protection. These special places include Berners Bay in Lynn Canal, Kadashan River and Trap Bay in Tenakee Inlet, Anan Creek near Wrangell, Kushneahin Creek west of Petersburg, the Naha River near Ketchikan, or Nutkwa Lagoon, Eek Lake, the Honker Divide, Calder-Holbrook and Salmon Bay on Prince of Wales Island.
Sections of the ANCSA Improvement Act that are cause for concern include:
Section 7, allows Cook Inlet Region, Inc., the Alaska Native regional corporation based in southcentral Alaska, to select 43,000 acres of federal lands in Alaska outside the boundaries of the Cook Inlet Region. These lands may come from within a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System in the State (other than the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) and could include Legislated Land Use Designation (LUD) II roadless wildlands on the Tongass National Forest.
Section 10 establishes new “urban” Native Corporations in Southeast Alaska for Alaska Native residents from the communities of Haines, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Tenakee, and Wrangell. Once “recognized,” these for-profit corporations can select 23,040 acres of high value, “local,” public lands from the Tongass. As drafted, Section 10:
- Directs the Secretary of Interior to offer “local areas of historical, cultural, traditional, and economic importance to Alaska Natives” from the five communities and “give preference to land with commercial purposes;”
- Mandates economic development of lands no matter their importance for customary and traditional or historical uses;
- Expressly fails to safeguard Tongass lands previously protected by Congress in perpetuity as Legislated LUD IIs (“roadless wildlands”) in the 1990 Tongass Timber Reform Act and the 2014 Sealaska Land Entitlement Finalization Act.
Section 11, Opens the Season for Certain Alaska Native Veterans to Select 160-acre Allotments, changes the bipartisan solution reached on this issue in 1998 and 2000. The section makes all lands on the Tongass National Forest, other than National Monuments, available for allotments, including lands previously designated as Wilderness and Legislated LUD II lands. In 1998 and 2000, SEACC supported equitable treatment for Alaska Native Veterans who missed the opportunity to obtain an allotment due to their service in the Vietnam War. Section 11, however, essentially establishes a new land entitlement on the Tongass instead of straightforwardly correcting for a missed opportunity.
Section 11 also authorizes compensatory acreage for Native Corporations that voluntarily relinquish lands in order to make such lands available for Veteran allotments. Such compensation is not currently provided for under existing law. ANCSA provided that all lands approved for allotments within four years of its enactment were to be deducted from the pool of lands available for selection by the regional corporations. To the extent this legislation reopens Native allotment applications pending on the date of ANCSA’s enactment in 1971, it makes no sense to treat regional corporate lands differently now.
Call or write Senators Murkowski and Cantwell and explain that a true “improvement” to ANCSA would guarantee current levels of protection for all lands designated by Congress --specifically roadless wildlands (Legislated LUD IIs) and Wilderness. It should do so while providing support and funding for the advancement of innovative solutions for rural development that preserve and protect the places we all love while meeting the long-term needs of these Southeast communities.
To submit written testimony for the hearing to the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining (including emails), send it to email@example.com by February 7, 2018, and copy SEACC at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the bill number (S.1481) in the subject line of your email.