DC Lobbying Report, Sealaska Futures Sites
SEACC's Grassroots Attorney Buck Lindekugel and Forest Program Director Bob Claus traveled to Washington, DC, May 14-18 with Gene Natkong, a council member of the Hydaburg Cooperative Association, and Mike Sallee, a former SEACC board member and Ketchikan resident, to talk about the Sealaska bill. The group met with 14 offices over four days, concentrating the discussion on the futures sites portions of the bill.
The trip coincided with the release of "Trading Away the Tongass", a booklet highlighting several potential Sealaska futures sites selections. The booklet was distributed to all of the offices that were visited, and was well received as demonstrating that the future sites selections are treasured by the people who use and visit them, and should not be converted into inholdings for the sole use of Sealaska Corporation.
One of the highlights of the trip was a meeting with Senator Begich, a co-sponsor of the bill. He listened to Gene Natkong's problems with the Jackson Island selection and to Mike Sallee's objections to the Spring Creek/Bailey Bay Hot Springs site. The Senator expressed his view that Tongass land management issues need to be resolved and that conservation remains a part of the solution. One of his staff mentioned that he had heard from every person in Tenakee objecting to the proposed Pegmatite site-your message is getting through.The consensus opinion about the future of this legislation, S.730/HR 1408, remains mixed. Several offices reported that there have been detailed negotiations involving the US Department of Agriculture and Senate staff involving a wide range of aspects of the bill, but no resulting version of the bill has been released for public review. Several sticking points in the negotiations remain to be resolved before a new version of the bill could move forward in the legislative process. SEACC and other conservation groups are not a party to these negotiations and do not have full information about them.
It is also unclear as to how or when this bill may move forward if an agreement between the Senate and the Administration is reached. There are many issues of pressing national concern that take precedence over this kind of legislation, and the divided political situation in Washington will only get more so as the election cycle progresses. The SEACC group talked with political and policy experts throughout the trip who offered widely varying predictions on how this might play out.
This trip was successful in emphasizing to decision-makers one of SEACC's objections to the bill--that the futures sites portion of the bill unfairly impacts those people who currently use these public lands. We also reiterated our position that communities across Southeast Alaska object to the bill, that the bill is not a value-for value exchange in terms of Old Growth forest and infrastructure and therefore will shortchange the US taxpayer, and that the timber practices allowed under State regulations to the Sealaska Corporation are more destructive ecologically than those allowed under federal regulations.
Learn more about these bills at http://seacc.org/healthy-forests/sealaska-lands