Stop AMHT’s Tongass land swap – Ask for a federal buyout (URGENT)


Update, May 15
SB-88 passed the legislature on May 10. The only hope now is a veto by governor, sending the bill back to the legislature for reconsideration. The grounds for this are that the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game was not invited to legislative committee hearings on the bill, and did not provide testimony or comments, but the impacts on the lands the Alaska Mental Health Trust will get in the land swap will be enormous.

The Alaska Constitution (Article VIII) requires a “hard look” (Alaska Supreme Court) at state decisions which affect the sustainability of the State’s natural resources (e.g. wildlife, fish, and habitat). The decision on the scale and locations of the new lands AMHT would get, or other alternatives that might be adopted, is to be made at the legislative/gubernatorial level, in this instance. Therefore, the bill should be vetoed, with a request by the governor for the legislature to take the constitutionally required hard look at the impacts to the State’s resources.

You can send the governor an email from this page Clicking the email button provides an email form (and it accepts a maximum of one attachment). His phone number is 465-3500.

ADF&G Commissioner Sam Cotten is at: Sam Cotten , 465-4100.

  • Update, April 18

SB-88 passed the Senate on April 13, and became the vehicle in the House. It passed House Finance on April 18 and is now headed to the floor, via the Rules Committee. Reps. Gara and Guttenberg voted “no recommendation,” the rest voted “do pass.” Please contact Reps. in the House majority, asking for a federal buyout instead of a land swap, using information below. See Majority webpage for a listing, including staff contact info.

What is needed is a federal buyout of the lands Alaska Mental Health Trust (AMHT) can’t reasonably develop, not a swap for Tongass National Forest lands.

To fund its operations, the Alaska Mental Health Trust was endowed by Congress with 1 million acres of land, in 1956. 18,000 of those acres are within five Southeast communities, and AMHT’s intent to log them threatens life, limb, and crucial viewsheds. Bills in Congress and the legislature would move the problem from those places to other places. At stake if AMHT logs these existing land holdings are landslides through residential areas in Petersburg, iconic viewsheds facing the downtowns of Ketchikan and Sitka, and important areas in Juneau, near Meyers Chuck and at No Name Bay on Kuiu Island.

The bills would swap those AMHT lands for over 20,000 acres in large blocks of the Tongass National Forest on Revillagigedo and Prince of Wales Islands. If this happens, the clearcutting to follow on these already heavily logged islands will have cause severe environmental problems. On non-federal land, state law allows clearcuts of unlimited size, often spanning many thousands of acres.

Instead of a land swap, what is needed is a federal buyout of AMHT’s problematic 18,000 acres, to provide needed funds to AMHT and entirely avoid logging. The purchased lands would be added to the Tongass National Forest. This would be a three-way win. The communities would be safe from harm; AMHT would be made whole; and forest ruin would be avoided. Time is short for amending the bills to accomplish this. Your help is needed!

What is at stake: If the land swap happens, AMHT will clearcut its new forestlands, and the 2015 banner photo illustrates how AMHT does its logging. This nearly 4,000 acre clearcut was completed in just a few years. Under state law, the size of clearcuts is unlimited on non-federal land, and it provides no protection for wildlife populations or habitat. This map shows locations of the four blocks forest the AMHT wants. Other maps below provide more detail. The three blocks on Prince of Wales Island total about 12,000 acres (19 square miles). The block on Revillagigedo Island (“Revilla”), the island Ketchikan is on, is over 8,000 acres (13 square miles).

Since last summer, when the congressional legislation was first introduced, GSACC has been pushing for a federal buyout of AMHT’s problematic lands instead of this swap

The legislative situation: In the Alaska legislature, the land swap bills are HB-155(Ortiz) and SB-88 (Stedman). In Congress they are S.131(Murkowski) and H.R.513 (Young).

HB-155: The Ak House Resources Committee heard invited testimony from the bill’s sponsor (Ortiz) and AMHT on March 27, and from the public on March 29. GSACC submitted written testimony for the first hearing and a few of our members testified at the second one. The committee passed the bill on March 29. The Resources Committee passed the bill on March 29, with 6 “do pass” and 3 “no recommendation”votes. The bill will also be heard by the House Finance Committee.

SB-88: In Ak Senate Resources, invited testimony was heard on March 22 from the bill’s sponsor and AMHT. Public testimony will be taken at3:30 on April 3, and likely 2-3 minutes for each person will be allotted. GSACC submitted written testimony, which should be on the meeting website on April 3 for the hearing. The bill will also be heard by the Senate Finance Committee.

In Congress, the House and Senate bills are both titled the “Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Exchange Act of 2017.”

S.131: The original bill in the last Congress was S.3006, which was reintroduced this January as S.131. A substitute version of the bill was passed out of Murkowski’s Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee by a voice vote on March 30, along with 64 other bills. Next stop is the Senate floor.

H.R.513: The bill was introduced in January and has been referred to the Natural Resources Committee and its Subcommittee on Federal Lands. A hearing on the bill has not yet been scheduled. See more info below in What You Can Do.

More on the impacts the land swap would cause
The Revilla Island (“Shelter Cove”) block – This 8,224 acre (13 square mile) block is above the head of George Inlet, on Revillagigedo Island. It extends from AMHT’s existing Leask Lakes clearcut to the middle of and part way down the peninsula between that inlet and Carroll Inlet. The official “Shelter Cove” name for the block is a misnomer, since the block does not reach the cove, on Carroll Inlet.
The Naukati / Sarkar Lakes area – The upper red box in the general location map corresponds to the map below. AMHT’s intended land selections (all of the orange) in that area are in several parcels that form one block of 9,507 acres (15 square miles) and another block to the north of 1,311 acres (2 square miles). These blocks wrap around the south and west sides of the Sarkar Lakes LUD-II area, which was protected by Congress in the 1990 Tongass Timber Reform Act. (LUD-II designation is similar to Wilderness, but less restrictive.) The selection areas include remaining patches of old-growth, and second growth that is up to 75 years old but mostly 35-45 years old. These blocks of forest should remain in the Tongass and be allowed to fully regain old-growth status. Under AMHT ownership, governed by Alaska’s Forest Resources and Practices Act, there is no limit on clearcut size, non-timber resources have scant protection if any, and the public has no say.

The Hollis block – The other red box on Prince of Wales Island is the 1,538 acre (2.4 square mile) block near Hollis shown in this map, and adjacent to the Karta Lake Wilderness Area and an area of extensive Native corporation logging. Under the present federal ownership, the block is designated as Scenic Viewshed in the Tongass Land Management Plan (TLMP). That LUD (land use designation) allows some logging, with a lighter touch in comparison to TLMP’s other two LUDs that allow logging. The block faces the route of the Interisland Ferry, at the junction of Kasaan Bay and Twelve-mile Arm.

What you can do

Please phone or email your state and congressional legislators, and others (even if not in your district) who are on committees that will review the bill. Say a buyout is the only reasonable option, and ask for an amendment to accomplish that. Ask your friends and relatives elsewhere in Alaska or (regarding congressional bills, in the Lower 48) to help out with this.

Also, through your local Legislative Information Office you can submit written testimony to a committee, or testify by teleconference for Alaska legislative committee meetings.

Alaska Legislature: The next hearing is April 3 at 3:30 in Senate Resources. Hearings are yet to be scheduled in Senate and House Finance committees. Follow the links above to the Senate’s Resources and Finance committees, and the House Finance committee, to check schedules and view hearing documents.

In the recent House Resources hearing, Reps. Josephson, Tarr and Drummond voted “no recommendation.” Thank them for not endorsing the bill as written, and ask them propose a floor amendment to make the bill a federal buyout. Contact info for these and other legislators can be accessed here for the House and Senate.

US House of Representatives: H.R.513 is in the Subcommittee on Federal Lands. The nine Democrats are list in the right-hand column of its webpage; please contact as many as possible. Most important are Hanabusa (D-HI, the ranking member), Grijalva (D-AZ, ex officio), and Tsongas (D-MA). Links to their contact information are on the webpage.

US Senate Since S.131 has now cleared the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the only committee of referral for the bill, this will come down to a floor vote. The bill is likely to be wrapped into omnibus legislation or a budget bill before it gets to the floor. Be alert for what is happening.

Contact us for help or questions: