Dispelling the land legislation’s urban legends around watersheds
People are talking about us.
From right here in Southeast Alaska, up to Anchorage and all the way over to Washington D.C., our land legislation is making news across the country. But it’s not all positive.
Recently one writer suggested that the Sealaska legislation is bad for fish. Conventional wisdom and urban legends might lead one to believe that he was right. As has happened with others, he is wrong because he failed to dig below the surface. Here’s why:
Urban Legend #1 The Board of Forestry is dominated by the timber industry, thus unfairly controlling Alaska’s forestry laws. Alaska’s Forest Resources Practices Act and Regulations (FRPA) regulate the harvest of timber in our state. In turn, the Board of Forestry oversees FRPA to ensure they are protecting fish habitat and water quality as well as ensuring good stewardship practices. The reality is that timber harvesting proponents are in the minority on the nine-member board.
Urban Legend #2 The state’s forestry regulations do not protect fish habitat because they only require 66-foot buffers between streams and the perimeter of harvests. The state does require the 66-foot buffer, but no one is talking about the fact that the 66-foot standard is a minimum requirement. The state also requires that a timbered buffer be retained for slope stability, a distance frequently wider than 66 feet. Through almost two decades of effectiveness monitoring, FRPA has proven that these two standards protect and support a flourishing fish habitat.
Urban Legend #3 Our final land entitlement represented in the pending legislation is bad for the environment. That’s not true. The land legislation reflects our own core values in maintaining publically owned watersheds critical for fisheries, drinking water, roadless areas and intact watersheds. A recent campaign was launched in Southeast Alaska to protect 77 watersheds comprising 1.8 million acres in the Tongass National Forest. Ironically, almost 50,000 of those acres are available to Sealaska for conveyance without passage of our land bill. We are seeking the legislation in part to ensure that those valuable resources remain where they should be—in public ownership. The conservation community needs to step forward to explain and explicitly defend their position that conveyances currently available to Sealaska result in a better environmental outcome.
Urban Legend #4 Sealaska’s land management does not extend beyond initial harvest. Whether it is an even-age harvest or selective logging, Sealaska land management practices ensure the health of the current and future forests and fish habitats—honoring our Native value Haa Shagoon. Sealaska develops its natural resources to save our indigenous languages, support the education of our tribal member shareholders and strengthen communities stricken with dire economic and energy crises. A fresh harvest is a new beginning and management by science and Native values will advance our Native cultures and communities today and in the future. That is Sealaska’s legacy.