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Sealaska land bills back before Congress

A smaller, stopgap Sealaska land bill is on the back burner – at least for now.

But the full measure is scheduled for markup during a congressional hearing this week.

Representative Don Young’s main legislation would convey about 70,000 acres of Tongass National Forest timberlands to Sealaska.

His smaller bill would turn over only a 20th of that acreage. But it calls for a faster-than-usual transfer. Sealaska has said it would provide enough timber to keep its logging business going.

Spokesman Michael Anderson says Young wants to focus on the larger legislation.

“We have the smaller bill waiting in the wings in case there’s any sort of hang-up with the larger one as the process goes forward. The region and industry need to be sustained in the short term. So we’re looking at every possible viable option at this point,” Anderson says.

The larger Sealaska measure is one of 14 land bills before the House Committee on Natural Resources, which meets Wednesday.

The shorter measure is not scheduled for that hearing.

The Senate is also expected to mark up its version of the Sealaska lands legislation soon.

Robert Dillon, spokesman for sponsor Lisa Murkowski, says it’s scheduled for June 18th before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

But he says that’s tentative.

“The bill isn’t complete yet. And also there are a number of other bills that other senators on the committee, including Chairman (Ron) Wyden, want to mark up during that session that aren’t ready yet either,” Dillon says.

That measure is cosponsored by Senator Mark Begich.

All the bills are controversial.

Some environmental groups say they would badly damage fish and wildlife habitat. Small Prince of Wales Island-area communities say it would devastate the landscape and threaten hunting and fishing. And several sportsmen’s groups say it would limit access to popular areas.

The smaller House bill is H.R. 1306. The larger one is H.R. 740. The Senate bill is S. 340.

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