March 17, 2010
The Honorable Nick Rahall, Chairman
House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources
1324 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Re: H.R. 2099 - Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization Act
Dear Chairman Rahall:
The Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. (RDC) is writing to express its strong support for H.R. 2099, the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization Act. We urge the enactment by the United States Congress of this bill that will complete Sealaska's Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) land entitlement and allow the corporation to meet the socioeconomic needs of its Native people.
RDC is an Alaskan business association comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska's fisheries, mining, oil and gas, timber, and tourism industries. Our membership also includes Native regional and village corporations, local governments, organized labor, and industry support firms. Our mission is to grow Alaska's economy through the responsible development ofthe state's natural resources.
In 1971, Congress enacted ANCSA to recognize and settle the aboriginal claims of Alaska Natives to their traditional homelands. This landmark legislation authorized 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 proviãe them with a means to pursue economic development and create sustainable economies for the benefit of Alaska's Native people. Unfortunately, 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. In fact, Sealaska is the single largest private employer in Southeast Alaska, providing hundreds of part-time and full-time jobi annually, and contributing as much as S90 million each year to the Southeast Alaskan economy. Sealaska also provides a significant benefit to Alaska Natives across the state through its annual 7(i) revenue sharing contributions, which, to date, have totaled over $300 millioi. For some Alaska Native corporations, 7(i) revenues are vital to their very survival.
ANCSA limited Sealaska land selections to withdrawal areas surrounding certain Native villages in Southeast Alaska, nearly forty percent of which is actually salt water' There is not suffi;ient land remaining in these withdrawal areas to meet Sealaska's traditional, cultural, or socioeconomic needs. Selection from the current withdrawal areas would not fully realize one of the promises of ANCSA - to create sustainable economies for the Native people of Alaska.
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. In addition, Sealaska would relinquish selection rights on 327,000 acres of land in the original withdrawal areas, which will result in management efficiency and certainty for the U.S. Forest Service. These lands have significant public value as 85 percent are roadless areas containing some of the highest value intact watersheds important to local communities, including over 112,000 acres of productive old-growth timber and 125,000 acres of core biological and high value areas.
Benefits to others are also clear. For Alaska Natives throughout Alaska, sustainable Sealaska timber operations mean continued revenue sharing distributions to other Alaska Natives under ANCSA Section 7(i). For supporters of roadless designations, Sealaska would relinquish selection rights in areas that are largely roadless and of high value fish and wildlife habitat. Further, more than 70 percent of the new areas identified in the bill for selection are in already roaded areas. Most importantly, the legislation fulfills Sealaska's hnal entitlement of 85,000 acres - no more land than was originally entitled to the corporation under ANCSA.
If Sealaska does not receive conveyance of all of the lands to which it is entitled in a timely fashion, the primary economic activity of Sealaska will cease in the near term, which will negatively impact Southeast Alaska's Native people, the already devastated Southeast Alaska economy, and Alaska Native corporations throughout the State that have come to rely upon Sealaska's 7(i) contributions. For these, and many other reasons, we urge passage of H.R.2009.
Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions regarding our position on this important legislation. Thank you for your consideration.
Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc.