Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) negotiated the inclusion of a land entitlement provision in the “must-pass” National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for a Sealaska, an Alaska Native Regional Corporation that helped fund her re-election in 2010 as a write-in candidate.
The NDAA, which includes a public lands package that has been lambasted by conservative lawmakers as unrelated to defense operations, passed the House last week. It is expected to be voted on in the Senate this week.
The public lands package includes the conveyance of tens of thousands of acres in the Tongass National Forest to the Sealaska Corp. It would allow the corporation to handpick lands outside the boundaries set by the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
In the past, “opponents have accused the Native corporation of choosing some of the best and most valuable lands in the national forest for their own private, moneymaking enterprises,” reported The Associated Press in June 2010.
A Dec. 3 press release acknowledged that Murkowski helped negotiate the Sealaska measure into the NDAA.
“The measure provides Sealaska Corp., the Alaska Native regional corp. for Southeast Alaska, with 70,075 acres to finalize transfer of land owed to the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian tribes under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA),” stated Murkowski’s office.
Federal Election Commission records show that the group raised an estimated $1.7 million to help with Murkowski’s 2010 re-election campaign, including $100,000 from Sealaska.
The Center for Responsive Politics shows that Sealaska spent nearly $19,000 on Sen. Murkowski in 2010 outside of its contribution through the Super PAC.
In a May 2012 article for The Blaze, S.E. Robinson detailed Sealaska’s contributions through the Super PAC.
“Sealaska led the charge behind Alaskans Standing Together, the super PAC that propelled Murkowski from GOP-primary-loser to write-in-winner and Republican Senator in 38 days by spending $1.7 million on a pro-Murkowski ad campaign,” he wrote.
In justifying the inclusion of the Sealaska land entitlement provision in the NDAA, Sen. Murkowski said that the corporation is owed 85,000 acres in the Tongass National Forest, but as part of a compromise will accept less in exchange for acreage for logging, development and historic sites.
“After decades of broken federal promises, we are finally close to delivering on the promise of ANCSA for thousands of Southeast Alaska residents,” Murkowski said. “This has been a difficult process because every acre of the Tongass is precious to someone, but we have worked tirelessly with all stakeholders to address concerns. I truly believe all of that work has resulted in legislation that will help the region’s timber industry, while at the same time protecting more than 150,000 acres for fisheries and habitat.”
“We took great care to fulfill the promises made to Sealaska shareholders, while at the same time addressing the concerns of all Southeast residents who utilize the Tongass for everything from subsistence to fisheries and recreation,” Murkowski said.
Critics of the land entitlement for Sealaska say it is worth approximately $5 billion and that it involves 132 to 158 square miles of the most valuable timber lands in Alaska.
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 created 12 regional corporations, including Sealaska, to oversee the disbursement of nearly $1 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds and 44 million acres of land to the native population.
According to Murkowski’s release, Sealaska is owed 85,000 acres of land under that bill.
However, The Blaze reported that Freedom of Information Act request documents show that the Sealaska corporation “made their final land claim selections in 2008 in a letter submitted to the Bureau of Land Management.”
A Sealaska land entitlement provision is now part of a public lands package that was attached to the NDAA, which provides guidance for U.S. defense spending and policy.
The NDAA is considered “must-pass” legislation. Critics consider the land provisions pork because they have nothing to do with defense or national security.