Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Proposed Land Claims Settlement Would Include Tongass Watersheds

Legislation that would transfer some 70,000 acres from Tongass National Forest to an Alaska Native regional corporation is prompting concern from Trout Unlimited over high-value salmon and trout watersheds across the vast forest.

Trout Unlimited is working to build support for its “Tongass 77” proposal that seeks permanent legislative protection for those 77 salmon and trout watersheds, which are included in the proposed land transfer to Sealaska Corp. 

Those 77 watersheds are included in the proposal span 1.9 million acres of the Tongass, and represent a subset of the most biologically productive places for salmon and trout that currently lack watershed-scale protection, according to officials for Trout Unlimited.

If enacted, the Tongass 77 legislation would help lock in a self-sustaining fisheries resource that employs about one in every 10 people in Southeast Alaska. “We have conducted a long and careful process, utilizing both peer-reviewed science and input from fishing stakeholders and government agencies to identify the Tongass watersheds that form the backbone of the more than $1 billion a year commercial and sport salmon industry here,” said Mark Kaelke, Southeast Alaska project director for Trout Unlimited. 

The fisheries conservation organization said on Feb. 16 that contrary to a media release issued by Sealaska, Trout Unlimited does not support the legislation and that Trout Unlimited never requested inclusion of 94,000 acres of conservation lands in the bill, as stated by Sealaska.

The Alaska Native corporation issued its own statement on Feb. 14, in which Sealaska board chair Albert Kookesh said that the legislation “includes 150,000 acres of new conservation lands, including 94,000 acres requested by Trout Unlimited."  

“While a higher number of acres will be placed into conservation than what is actually being conveyed to Southeast Natives, Alaska strives to work with others on sustainable solutions for a place that is home to us all,” Kookesh said.

Trout Unlimited does not dispute that Sealaska is owed land under the Alaska native claims Settlement Act, “but the inference by Sealaska that they have bought our support of this legislation with a tiny amount of conservation lands is false,” said Tim Bristol, manager of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska program. 

“What we are seeking is strong and meaningful conservation leadership,” Bristol said. “The Sealaska bill, as it exists today, certainly does not meet that standard.”

More information about the Tongass 77 proposal is at

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