Feds turning Tongass land over to Sealaska

Sealaska Plaza pellet boiler
Sealaska Corp.’s headquarters are in Juneau. The regional Native corporation completes its land-selection process Friday. (Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Sealaska Corp. gets its new land on Friday.

The federal Bureau of Land Management will sign paperwork that day turning over 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to the corporation.

The agency’s Ramona Chinn says the land must still be surveyed and patented. But as of Friday, it’s Sealaska’s.

“It’s a milestone for the land-transfer program. Sealaska is one of 12 regions and this would finalize their entitlement,” Chinn says.

Federal legislation passed late last year turned the land over to the Juneau-based regional Native corporation. Sealaska gave up the right to select other lands in Southeast, under terms of 1971’s Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Erika Reed says Sealaska prioritized which of the new parcels it wants first.

“We are going to be able to, we think, depending on the budget, survey the first two priorities this year. But assuming we maintain a stable budget, it will probably take us about five years to survey all 18 parcels,” she says.

The full process will take about eight years.

About 3,400 acres of old-growth forest on the Cleveland Peninsula and Prince of Wales Island’s North Election Creek are at the top of the list.

Sealaska has said logging could begin this year, but it’s not a firm decision. The parcels are near other corporation land with logging infrastructure.

Sealaska can also take over up to 76 tracts of cemetery and other historic sites in the Tongass totaling no more than 490 acres.

No timeline is set for that process.

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