As citizens across the country watch the antics of the 112th Congress, we are all left wondering, "where is the leadership we need to take on the challenges we are facing in the world? When are we going to take care of our environment? When are we going to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy? When are we going to invest in local economies rather than giving massive subsidies and tax-breaks to global corporations? When is Congress going to actually put aside partisan differences and do something meaningful?"
It surely isn't happening right now. In fact, the House of Representatives just introduced a bill that shows the worst of Congress and it could have huge implications on SE Alaska and critical public lands across the country. They have cynically named the bill the "Conservation and Economic Growth Act." It should probably be called, "The- Worst Bills For The Environment in Congress Wrapped Into One Act of 2012." The bill is a lands omnibus bill and pulls together some of the worst bills currently in Congress. It includes such cynically titled acts such as the "Grazing Improvement Act of 2012" which allow grazing to continue on lands where cows shouldn't even be roaming and puts grazing permits outside of environment review. It also includes the beautifully named "Preserve Access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Act" which sounds good, but in reality is meant to open miles of critical beach habitat for piping plovers to ATVs, Dune Buggies, and other off road vehicles. Good luck plovers!
For Southeast Alaska, this bill is awful because our Representative Don Young has inserted the Sealaska Legislation which would privatize close to 100,000 acres of ecologically critical Tongass Lands. The version of the bill that Representative Young has introduced is much worse than the bad version of the bill being debated in the Senate. This version would create an even more widespread pox of in-holdings throughout the Sitka Community Use Area in areas that Sitkans routinely use and enjoy. If this bill passes, the nightmare we are facing with the corporate privatization of Redoubt Lake Falls is just the beginning.
If you dislike these developments as much as us, please take action. We don't think that calls to Representative Young will help (you can try, his number is 202-225-5765). However, his goal seems to be to privatize and give away as much of the Tongass as possible. If you are in the lower 48, you should call your Congress members and tell them that HR2578 is awful and they should not support it. If you are in Alaska, please consider writing a letter to the editor letting everyone else in the community know how bad this bill is and that its introduction is a travesty (give us a call if you want some ideas or help).
As we watch our Congress and elected leaders flounder, we are reminded that in a democracy, we share responsibility and need to take action to create the society and the environment we want. Voicing concerns over the misdirection of Congress, especially on bills like this one, is one way we can engage and make change.
Here is a link to a letter that SCS submitted opposing the legislation: here
Here is a link to a Radio Story on the legislation: here
Here is a link to a copy of the legislation: here
It is getting to be that time of the year when Sitkans begin to digtheir dipnets out of the shed and get them ready for the return of Sockeye at Redoubt Lake. Luckily, it is still in public hands this year and we can still fish there. We hope that will be the case forever and it will be in public hands and have public access. Here's some background on this issue.
If you want Redoubt to continue to be in public hands, please help us by taking action. Below is a letter that SCS is sending to the Sitka assembly following a visit from the Sealaska Corporation to a recent assembly meeting.
Please let us know if you would like to sign on to the letter. Or, consider writing your own letter to the Sitka assembly at this address: [email protected]
June 6th, 2012
Dear Assembly Members:
In comments to the Assembly last month, Sealaska Corporation attorney Jaeleen Araujo gave the same assurances as she has in the past regarding continued public use of Redoubt Falls following a conveyance of the property to the corporation. We appreciate Ms. Araujo's comments, but there are still no guarantees about the future of Redoubt Falls.
At this point, the Redoubt conveyance has been put on hold, while a color of title petition filed by the trustees of Sheldon Jackson College is being resolved. The delay is a blessing, providing us an opportunity to again consider the best scenario for continued public use of Redoubt.
For now, Sealaska seems intent on entering a Memorandum of Understanding with the city and the Sitka Tribe, which would promise long-term public access to Redoubt. Unfortunately, Section 17(b) of ANCSA specifically states that access cannot be granted -- only an easement to pass over the land is allowed. This means the MOU would be an empty promise with no long-term guarantee.
The City's legal team itself has said that an MOU is insufficient. It has argued a deed restriction with a strict conservation easement and access language is the only thing that comes close to giving the public the same access as it has now. The only thing that we can see that would allow the access the Sealaska is promising is a deed restriction. The City Assembly and City Staff must demand a deed restriction and not settle for an MOU that does not hold long-term, binding commitments.
However, our preferred alternative remains that Sealaska withdraw its selection of Redoubt Falls and enter into a cooperative management agreement with the City, Forest Service, and Sitka Tribe. Under such an agreement Sealaska and the Sitka Tribe could develop a management scheme to protect the historic properties on the parcel, while language would also protect continued public access the shoreline for fishing and for the Forest Service to access and operate its fish weir and preserve any cultural and heritage resources at the site (including Russian American operations at the site).
We ask that the City steer away from the proposed MOU and instead work toward a solution that will guarantee the public will continue to have access to the subsistence fishery at Redoubt Falls for generations to come.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Executive Director, Sitka Conservation Society
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 Washington, D.C. 20250-0003 [email protected] Please also write you congressmen. If you live in Alaska, write to:
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.
ABureau of Land management publicationstates,"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.