Alaska Tribal Corporation Responds to Audubon Report Criticizing Its Tongass Plan

Published: Feb 29, 2012
Anchorage - 
E&E Publications, Phil Taylor

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Alaska's largest native corporation said an Audubon Alaska report "grossly mischaracterizes" the impact of a bipartisan legislative proposal that would allow the firm to acquire choice timberlands in the Tongass National Forest.

Chris McNeil, CEO of Sealaska Corp., said yesterday that the methodology used in the report last week is a poor measure for wildlife habitat and ecosystem values, as demonstrated by government reports, scientific literature and federal court decisions.

"Sealaska's proposed land selections and relinquishment of lands within the areas it can currently select will protect the integrity of Tongass National Forest's conservation strategy and will protect more old growth," he said in a statement. "The Tongass National Forest approach is a far more comprehensive strategy than Audubon Alaska's overly simplistic report based on discredited volume class measures as the best metric of ecological sustainability."

The Audubon report warned that the legislation would allow Sealaska to obtain up to 17 percent of the last remaining very large old-growth trees in the Tongass National Forest (Greenwire, Feb. 23). The trees take several hundred years to grow and are safe havens for deer, salmon and other wildlife.

In total, the bills by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) would allow Sealaska Corp. to log up to 12 times as much very large old-growth trees as what is now allowed under a 40-year-old law.

But McNeil said the bills would save the corporation from acquiring 30,000 acres of old-growth forest that it is currently allowed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The tribe is asking Congress to allow it to select lands outside its original "boxes."

The proposal has sparked concern from conservationists, some local communities, sportsmen and the Obama administration, which said the bills would hinder its plan to transition the forest to second-growth timber and could shutter local mills.

Eric Myers, policy director of Audubon Alaska and co-author of the report, said the bills would allow the overharvesting of a large portion of the remaining very large old-growth trees in the forest.

He disputed McNeil's criticism of the report.

"There is nothing the matter with the science or data in our report," he said in an email. "Sealaska simply doesn't like the finding that they want to high-grade [overharvest] a substantial portion of the last remaining very large-tree old growth on the Tongass."

He added that Sealaska in the past has supported the existing selection areas and has submitted a proposal to the Bureau of Land Management.

"Now the corporation wants far more valuable public lands that are open to the American public for fishing, hunting, and recreation and are relied upon by a number of small tourism and outfitter businesses, along with sport and commercial fishermen," Myers said.

Copyright  2013 National Audubon Society, Inc