Opinion: Alaska Native corporation trying to redo land settlement
"Of all of Alaska's many superlative attributes, the Tongass National Forest is one of the finest. Comprising all but 2 million acres of the Alexander Archipelago (Alaska's southeast panhandle), it is the nation's largest national forest and home to the largest and most extensive stands of old-growth timber left in the United States.

The forest was created by Theodore Roosevelt, our first "conservation" president. There was little development in the forest until after World War II, when an impending national newsprint shortage led timber and pulp manufacturers to consider the Tongass' economic potential.

But there was a very substantial structural hurdle: Native land claims. Authorized by Congress, in 1947 the Tlingit and Haida Indians of Southeast Alaska filed a land claim to all of Southeast Alaska, based on their traditional use and occupancy of the land.

Imagine their astonishment, then, when, in 1959, the court did in fact find that the Tlingit and Haida Indians had owned all of Southeast Alaska at the time of the American purchase. In 1968 the court awarded the Tlingit and Haida $7.5 million in compensation. It was a paltry amount for the Tongass' timber, and led Tlingit and Haida leaders to join the effort for a comprehensive land settlement, which Congress passed as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.

The new Southeast Alaska Native regional corporation, Tlingit and Haida's Sealaska, profited handsomely from ANCSA, receiving $200 million of the nearly $1 billion settlement in lieu of land, most of which is in the forest; they also received 400,000 acres and authorization to select additional land in the future. In 1975, in an advantageous ANCSA amendment, Sealaska agreed to restrictions on where it might select future land, including unique environmental parcels and areas that would affect communities.

Today, in legislation before Congress, Sealaska wants a revision of the 1975 amendment that would convey more old-growth timber for harvest and ownership of a number of sites suitable for ecotourism. But Sealaska has a poor history as a land steward; it has cut 85 percent of its 1971 lands, using highly destructive methods exempt from government regulation. Critics also charge that Sealaska already has received more than its fair share of economic advantage in the archipelago from ANCSA, yet wants still more."

Get the Story:
Steve Haycox: Debate has long focused on Tongass (The Anchorage Daily News 8/6)

Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization Act:
H.R. 2099 | S.881

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