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Murkowski introduces bill; Bering Straits Native Corporation and Alaska land claims

March 5th, 2009 Posted By: Morgan Howard No Comments


Lisa MurkowskiAlaska Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced a bill to resolve the claims of the Bering Straits Native Corporation and the State of Alaska to land adjacent to Salmon Lake and to provide for the conveyance to the Bering Straits Native Corporation of certain other public land in partial satisfaction of the land entitlement of the Corporation under the ANCSA.

Senator Murkowski spoke on the floor on S. 522:

Mr. President, I rise to speak to a bill that I am introducing today to resolve a land conveyance dispute in Northwest Alaska, the Salmon Lake Land Selection Resolution Act.

Shortly after Alaska became a State in 1959, Alaska selected lands near Salmon Lake, a major fishery resource in the Bering Straits Region of Northwest Alaska. In 1971, Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to resolve aboriginal land claims throughout the 49th State. In that act Congress created 12 regional Native corporations in state, providing the corporations with $966 million and the right to select 44 million acres of land in return for giving up claims to their traditional lands in Alaska. The land and money was to go to make the corporations profitable to provide benefits to their shareholders, the native inhabitants of Alaska. The Bering Straits Native Corporation, one of those 12 regional corporations, promptly selected lands in the Salmon Lake region

For the past 38 years there have been conflicts over the conveyances, delaying land from going to the corporation, harming the economic and cultural benefits of the corporation to Native shareholders, and complicating land and wildlife management issues between federal agencies and the State of Alaska. Starting in 1994, but accelerating in 1997, talks began among the State, Federal agencies and native corporations and towns in the region, located north of Nome–Salmon Lake itself is located 38 miles north of Nome–to reach a consensus on land uses in the region. Those talks reached agreement on June 1, 2007 with a resolution that satisfied all parties. This seemingly non-controversial legislation will implement the new land management regime

By this bill the Corporation will gain conveyance to 1,009 acres in the Salmon Lake area, 6,132 acres at Windy Cove, northwest of Salmon Lake, and 7,504 acres at Imuruk Basin, on the north shore of Imuruk Basin, a water body north of Windy Cove. In return the Corporation relinquishes rights to another 3,084 acres at Salmon Lake to the federal government, the government then giving part of the land to the State of Alaska for it to maintain a key airstrip in the area. The Federal Bureau of Land Management also retains ownership and administration of a 9-acre campground at the outlet of Salmon Lake, which provides road accessible public camping opportunities from the Nome-Teller Highway. The agreement also retains public access to BLM managed lands in the Kigluaik Mountain Range.

The bill fully protects recreation and subsistence uses in the area, while providing the Corporation with access to recreational-tourism sites of importance to its shareholders and which might some day produce revenues for the Corporation. The agreement has prompted no known environmental group concerns and seems to be the classic “win-win-win” solution that all sides should be congratulated for crafting. The key, however, is for Congress to ratify the land conveyance changes by 2011, when the agreement ratification window closes.

Passage of this act is certainly in keeping with the spirit of the Alaska Lands Conveyance Acceleration Act that this body passed 5 years ago that was intended to help settle all outstanding land conveyance issues by 2009–the 50th anniversary of Alaska statehood. In Alaska where controversy abounds over land use, this is a hard-fought compromise agreement that seemingly satisfies all parties and makes good sense for all concerned. I hope this body can ratify this bill swiftly and move it to the House of Representatives for its concurrence and eventual signing by the President. The bill is important for residents of Nome who utilize the area and for all Alaska Natives who live in the Bering Straits Region.

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