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Sealaska targets biggest trees in Tongass

For nearly a decade, Sen. Lisa Murkowski has failed to move legislation through Congress that would change the locations where Sealaska Corporation may select its final 132 square miles of entitlements under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

But no new Congressional legislation is necessary for Sealaska to receive all the land promised to it, despite CEO Chris McNeil's objections to the Audubon Alaska's Tongass report ("Audubon Alaska's Tongass report flawed," Compass, March 1).

McNeil's piece failed to discuss a graph at the back of the report. What does this Audubon graph show? And why does McNeil not discuss it?

The graph shows that the lands Sealaska asked to select in its 2008 letter to BLM are economic to log.

The 2008 selections have as much timber on them as the average timber lands in the Tongass -- 25,000 to 30,000 board feet has been the average logged recently.

McNeil can make a profit logging them if he manages its operations efficiently. I should know. My family was in the logging business for three generations.

But the lands in S 730, Sen. Murkowski's bill, are way above average; they are among the finest timber sites in the entire Tongass, yielding about two to four hundred percent more timber than the 2008 lands.

These S 730 lands contain 60,000 to 100,000 board feet per acre. They are rare islands of the remaining giants on the Tongass. They stand 250 feet high. Their girth is 10-12 feet in diameter, with some larger.

These huge big-tree stands sustain wildlife and fish which, in turn, sustain people. Decades of planning resulted in these reserves remaining intact, because the balance of life in the Tongass requires them. When they are cut all at once, the jobs are cut too. Many of our jobs rely on these big trees being alive.

McNeil challenges the Audubon scientists who prepared the report, claiming their methods are wrong, an interesting charge from a lawyer who is the CEO of Sealaska. From my observations, the data in the report is accurate and reliable.

The report does something pretty irrefutable. It identifies where Sealaska wants to cut on a map. Lo and behold, much of the resulting lines meander around the biggest stands of trees. So obviously Sealaska targeted these big trees.

I know my community, Edna Bay, cannot remain viable if S 730 passes. Sealaska wants to take the most productive sites on my island, which includes second growth forests that the U.S. Forest Service plans to cut sustainably.

Since Sealaska has a track record of mowing down all the trees for continuous miles leaving a lot to rot, our towns will face severe disruption and dislocation should McNeil's flawed arguments prevail in Congress. They will wither if Sealaska has its way.

There is simply no compromise with a company that does not care if it destroys communities and wreaks havoc with forest plans that took decades of public money and time to develop.

On Feb. 29, our towns asked the governor to oppose S 730 in light of what we view as the new main finding of the Audubon Report.

The governor was under the mistaken belief, and told the Senate Committee considering S 730, that the 2008 Sealaska selections submitted to BLM were not economic to log. He has never provided a shred of evidence to back up his stance.

Because the Audubon Report proves the 2008 lands are economic to log, we asked the governor to reverse his support for this bill. There may be political reasons why Gov. Parnell cannot do so, but if science dictates public policy, he should reverse himself immediately.

Our letter to the governor has precedent. Last November the governor's own appointees to the State's Citizens Advisory Commission on Federal Areas stated, "...the Commission has concluded that the corporation's land entitlement can be adequately met with lands from the ANCSA withdrawal areas added by Congress in 1976 ... and therefore ... we cannot support passage of S 730 or HR 1408."

I agree.

Myla Poelstra is the postmistress in Edna Bay and chairman of the Sealaska Committee. The nine towns that sent the letter to the governor are Thorne Bay, Kupreanof, Edna Bay, Naukati, Port Protection, Pt. Baker, Hollis, Whale Pass and Cape Pole.



By MYLA POELSTRA