Congress probes land deal in Alaska’s Tongass forest

For decades, conservationists, the U.S. Forest Service, tribes, Native corporations and the people who live in the Tongass National Forest have warred over how to manage the vast temperate rain forest that covers most of southeast Alaska.

The fight resurfaces in Washington this week, as the Native corporation Sealaska makes a case to a Senate committee that it should be able to pick new acreage outside of the original land grants it never took ownership of.

The company’s choices are controversial, in part because they include valuable old-growth timber that many would like to see off limits to logging. Some local groups also have concerns about how Sealaska plans to address important cultural locations in the acres it wants, including places that are part of their ancestral history.

The 17 million-acre Tongass is the nation’s largest national forest. Because development came relatively late to southeast Alaska, parts of the forest are little different from how they were centuries ago. The forest, with 11,000 miles of shoreline, is home to bears, salmon and the largest known concentration of bald eagles.

Sealaska argues that it’s sought for decades to assume ownership of all the acreage it was granted under 1971’s Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the landmark legislation that settled aboriginal land claims by the state’s Native people.

Read More at The Miami Herald by Erika Bolstad, McClatchy Newspapers