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Sealaska bill going before Senate lands panel

The revised Sealaska land bill will have its first Senate hearing on Thursday.

The chamber’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands will take up the measure.

Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich are co-sponsors. A separate but similar bill sponsored by Congressman Don Young is in the House.

What’s called the Southeast Alaska Native Land Conveyance Act would transfer about 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to the regional Native corporation.

Supporters say it’s a much-negotiated compromise completing Sealaska’s land selections.

“The current bills under consideration by Congress would fulfill a promise made to Alaska Natives and the public while resolving the discrepancies between 1970s priorities and today’s issues,” Sealaska President and CEO Chris McNeil Jr. said in a press release.

Opponents say it gives away valuable timber stands and threatens environmentally sensitive areas within the Tongass.

“Although some of the boundaries have changed, the percentage of old-growth forest proposed for harvest remains unacceptably high,” wrote Jerry Burnett, president of the Juneau-based outdoors group Territorial Sportsmen, in a letter to Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, ranking Democrat on the committee.

The Sealaska bill is one of 20 public-lands measures listed for the hearing at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Alaska time.

Other bills on the agenda address boundaries for Utah Indian reservations and a New Mexico national forest. Still others concern grazing rights and wilderness designations in other states.

Hear an earlier report on the measure.

Hear a report on reaction to the bill.

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