Background: The Alaska Congressional Delegation has introduced bills in the House and Senate that would take tens of thousands of acres of prime Tongass lands and privatize them by passing them over to the Sealaska Corporation. The Sitka Conservation Society opposes this legislation and sees it as a threat to the Tongass and to the ways that we use and depend on the lands and waters around us.
Beyond the over 80,000 acres of prime forest land that they are trying to take that will surely be clear-cut, they are trying to take land in ways that could be even more destructive. One of the worst aspects of the legislation is that it would give Sealaska the opportunity to select over 3600 acres of land in small parcels throughout the Tongass as in-holdings within the National Forest. We are already seeing what this means as Sealaska is working to privatize the important fishing site at Redoubt Lake. Here they can strategically select only 10 acres and virtually “control” the entire watershed. It is frightening what they could do if they had thousands more acres to select. We already know that they are planning on cherry-picking the best sites. Around Sitka, we already know that they want to select sites in all the sockeye producing watersheds and sites in important use areas like Jamboree Bay and Port Banks.
Most chilling is that Sealaska is mixing the issue of race and culture into their own corporate goals. They are cynically calling the 3600 acres “cultural sites.” While it is true that there are important sites that were used throughout history by Native Alaskans, they should not be privatized by a corporation with the mandate to make profit. They sites should stay in public hands, be protected by the Antiquities act, and be collaboratively managed by the clans who have the closest ties to them.
Further, sites that were important in the past because of their fish runs and hunting access are still important for the same reasons today. They should not be privatized. They should be honored by their continual traditional uses and their public ownership.
Take Action: You can take action by writing letters to Congress and to the Forest Service Chief telling them to oppose the Sealaska Legislation.
Please write to Chief Tidwell:Tom Tidwell Chief of USDA Forest Service US Forest Service
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Please also write you congressmen. If you live in Alaska, write to:
Washington, DC 20510 Email to staff: Bob_Weinstein@begich.senate.gov Representative Don Young
2314 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Sealaska is moving forward with plans to take ownership of Redoubt Falls. Stakes have been placed, and opportunities for public comment on this divisive plan are limited.
Although Sealaska has claimed in the past that the public will continue to have access to the most important subsistence sockeye stream close to Sitka, there doesn’t seem to be a legal mechanism to guarantee public access once the land is transferred. The Sitka Tribes have submitted a letter of support for the transfer which doesn’t mention continued public access.
A Bureau of Land management publication states, ”Do not hunt, fish, or trap on or from a 17(b)easement unless you first get a permit and permission from the Alaska Native corporation who owns the private land.” The regulations in the Bureau of Land Management publication will apply to Redoubt Falls, if transferred to Sealaska. Sealaska attorney Araugo has stated in the past that access to Sealaska land would be granted on a “case by case” basis.