Another Attempted Land Grab in Alaska

by Mark Kaelke

TU Southeast Alaska Project Director

Alaska is a place ruled by seasons and cycles that get fairly predictable after you experience them a few times.  We harvest fish, berries and our gardens in the summer, hunt and chop wood in the fall, do various forms of sledding or skiing, take vacations or hibernate in the winter and get ready to do it all over again the spring.

Alaska is also comprised of mostly federal land, some 219,000,000 acres or almost 70 percent of its total land area.  Many of these lands are iconic places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Denali National Park and the Tongass National Forest—places well known as national treasures.  What is likely far less known outside of Alaska is how frequently Alaskan politicians attempt to raid these treasures.  I haven’t kept track of the actual number myself but it seems a plan to do just that gets hatched about every two years up here.

The genesis of these plans follows a predictable cycle of its own.  Although Alaska receives more federal dollars per capita than any other state, many Alaska politicians get elected on platforms that include loud but vague anti-federal agendas— like “Keep the feds out!” or “Let Alaskans run Alaska!”  Next they add in some unsustainable resource extraction, like what went on during almost 50 years of industrial-scale logging on the Tongass, leaving a private industry in a quandary as to its next move.  Then some politician, full of anti-fed rhetoric,  will typically swoop in with a proposal to rescue the failed industry  by proposing to take federal lands from those nasty people in Washington D.C. (and all us taxpayers) and put them under state ownership, thereby righting the injustice, oppression and tyranny the mere existence of federal lands represents to all true Alaskans. 

There’s usually a day or two of factional chest-pounding when these resolutions get introduced in our legislature but that fades quickly as folks remember it’s really up to the U.S. Congress to decide how to manage federal public lands. State Senator Bert Stedman (R-Sitka) probably knows that as well as anyone but it hasn’t stopped him from recently introducing Senate Concurrent Resolution 2  which calls for the transfer of Tongass National Forest lands to the State of Alaska so they can be logged by private companies.

The days are finally starting to get noticeably longer up here now and yet another federal land grab has been proposed in our legislature. Alaska’s seasons and cycles continue but some cycles are best recognized for what they are: silly ideas that may score the odd political point up here but will go nowhere in Congress.

Read a recent media story  on Sen. Stedman’s proposal.


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