The Bureau of Land Management is trying to reach some 2,200 Alaska Native veterans to let them know they can lay claim to 160 acres apiece.
That’s because Congress approved a new Native allotment filing period for veterans who served during the Vietnam War era
“We believe many of the veterans have passed,” said BLM Deputy Director of Policy and Programs William Perry Pendley. “But their heirs are eligible for this, their spouses, and many of them are in the Lower 48. So we’re eager to get the word out.”
The Native Allotment program began in 1906, to give Indigenous people title to land they used or lived on. Congress ended the program in 1971, with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
For years, Alaska’s congressman and senators have tried to reopen the program. They argue that thousands of veterans missed the opportunity to apply because they were serving in the military.
Vietnam-era vets got another crack at an allotment in 1998. That filing period didn’t work as intended.
“Members of Congress were very disappointed as a low number of those who applied,” Pendley said.
So this time, Congress opened the door wider. Now veterans don’t need to have any connection to the land they select.
Environmentalists have warned the program is a pretext for getting public lands in private hands. They predicted developers would push vets to select parcels with commercial potential. But so far, BLM’s map of available land shows only small clusters in three distant parts of the state – the Fortymile area in the Interior; in the west, near Goodnews Bay; and nestled between glaciers near Yakutat.
Pendley says BLM is trying to unlock more land by clearing claims the state of Alaska made years ago that have languished.
“And we believe that will release an additional 13 million acres. And The Fish and Wildlife Service is looking at an additional 26 million acres,” Pendley said.
The BLM says it will update the map as the pool of available land grows. The agency is about to publish the draft rules of the program. Pendley says the government will also send letters in an attempt to notify all eligible vets and their heirs. The application window will be open for five years.
Editor’s note: The image in this story has been updated to show a more accurate depiction of the areas currently being offered by the Bureau of Land Management to Alaska Natives who are veterans of the Vietnam War.