May 23, 2011
Senator Lisa Murkowski
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Re: Supporting Sealaska Corporation’s Land Entitlement Legislation, S.730
Dear Senator Murkowski:
The Resource Development Council is writing to express its support for S. 730, the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act.
RDC is a statewide, non-profit, business association comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, timber, tourism and fisheries industries. Our membership also includes Native regional and village corporations, local governments, organized labor and industry support firms. In fact, all of Alaska’s 13 Native Regional Corporations are members of RDC. Our mission is to help grow Alaska’s economy through the responsible development of the state’s natural resources.
S. 730 is the result of more than 225 community meetings and reflects the needs and concerns of Southeast Alaska residents. RDC appreciates the efforts of the Alaska Congressional Delegation to fulfill the 40-year old promise of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) and convey to Sealaska Corporation its final 85,000 acres of land.
In 1971, Congress enacted ANCSA to recognize and settle the aboriginal claims of Alaska Natives to their traditional homelands by authorizing the establishment of Alaska Native corporations to receive and manage lands and funds awarded in settlement of the claims. The purposes of ANCSA were not only to settle the land claims of Alaska Natives, but also to provide them with a means to pursue economic development and create sustainable economies for the benefit of Alaska’s Native people. However, more than 35 years after the passage of ANCSA, the land conveyances have yet to be completed.
Since 1971, many Alaska Native corporations have become successful and powerful economic engines within their regions and throughout the State of Alaska. Sealaska is the single largest private employer in Southeast Alaska, providing hundreds of part-time and full-time jobs annually, and contributing as much as $90 million each year to the Southeast Alaska economy. Sealaska also provides a significant benefit to Alaska Natives across the state through its annual 7(i) revenue sharing contributions, which have totaled over $300 million.
In recent years, Sealaska has engaged in a comprehensive land entitlement and conservation initiative, allowing it to complete its land entitlement by making cultural and economic land selections outside of original “withdrawal areas.” ANCSA limited Sealaska land selections to withdrawal areas surrounding certain Native villages in Southeast Alaska. The problem is that in Sealaska’s case, there are no lands remaining in these withdrawal areas that meet the corporation’s traditional, cultural, or socioeconomic needs. Forty percent of the original withdrawal areas are salt water. Selection from the withdrawal areas would not fulfill the promise of ANCSA – to create sustainable economies for the Native people of Southeast Alaska.
In return for selecting lands outside the withdrawal areas, Sealaska would allow removal of the encumbrance created by the withdrawal of lands for Alaska Native selection in Southeast Alaska. These lands have significant public value as 85 percent are roadless areas containing some of the highest value intact watersheds important to local communities, have over 112,000 acres of productive old-growth timber and 125,000 acres of core biological and high value areas.
Benefits of this legislation to the federal government are clear. Passage will enable the federal government to complete its statutory obligation to the Natives of Southeast Alaska, as promised under ANCSA. Sealaska would relinquish selection rights on 327,000 acres of land in the original withdrawal areas, which results in management efficiency and certainty for the U.S. Forest Service. Completion of ANCSA conveyances would also be significant for the Bureau of Land Management.
Benefits to others are also clear. For Alaska Natives throughout Alaska, sustainable Sealaska timber operations means continued revenue sharing distributions to other Alaska Natives under ANCSA Section 7(i). For some Alaska Native corporations, 7(i) revenues are vital to their survival. For supporters of roadless designations, Sealaska would relinquish selection rights in areas that are largely roadless and of high value fish and wildlife habitat. More than 70 percent of the acres identified in the bill for selection are in roaded areas. Most importantly, the legislation fulfills Sealaska’s final entitlement of 85,000 acres – no more land than is originally owed to the corporation under ANCSA.
If Sealaska does not receive conveyance of all of the lands to which it is entitled in the near term, the primary economic activity of Sealaska will soon cease, which will impact Southeast Alaska’s Native people, the Southeast Alaska economy, and Alaska Native corporations throughout the state that have come to rely upon Sealaska’s 7(i) contributions.
The Resource Development Council strongly supports the enactment by the United States Congress of S.730 to complete Sealaska’s ANCSA land entitlement to allow the corporation to continue to help meet the economic needs of our Native people and their corporations throughout Alaska. Moreover, the Alaska Federation of Natives and the CEOs of all of Alaska’s regional Native corporations endorse Sealaska’s land legislation.
Thank you for introducing S. 730 and standing up for the Native people of Southeast Alaska. RDC stands ready to assist your efforts in Congress on this important legislation.
Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc.