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

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