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Public lands into private hands?

Among the lands Theodore Roosevelt set aside, in perpetuity, for use and enjoyment of the American people is the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska..
At nearly 17 million acres in size and the largest of the national forests, it is held to be its “crown jewel.”
An Audubon Society report notes the Tongass to include “thousands of islands, countless streams, glacial fjords and lush valleys, and sprawling forests of majestic old-growth cedar, spruce and hemlock trees.”
Encompassing major spawning grounds for all Pacific salmon species, it is home to grizzly bears, bald eagles and other wildlife.
For many species in significant decline elsewhere, it offers a, perhaps, last refuge. And, as Roosevelt intended, the Tongass lands are available to the American public for fishing, hunting and recreation.
For Alaskans, they support many tourism and related businesses, as well as commercial fishing and timber harvesting. They also contain most of what remains of America’s old-growth trees.
These, especially important for fish and wildlife and commercially valuable in today’s markets, are disappearing the world over, partly due to stresses from climate warming.
In the Tongass, healthy tree giants 30 feet around at the base, 200 feet tall and more than 800 years old can still be found.
Yet, after a half-century of disproportionate logging of the large trees, these now make up only 3 percent of the forest, and its old large trees, as classified by the Forest Service, comprise just .5 percent.
A private corporation is seeking to get at more of the rare cedar and other old-growth tree stands of the Tongass.
In an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971, the Congress ceded 45 million acres, plus $966 million, to three Native Nations, the land to be conveyed to regional, private Native corporations.
One of these, Sealaska, having chosen its preferred “lands-for-timber-value” sections, had these set down in law in 1976.
Following further Congressional action in 2004, to accelerate the land transfers, the corporation certified its selections as “final” and “irrevocable,” in 2008.
Yet it lobbied, at the same time, to be given different, new parcels of Tongass Forest lands ­— concentrating on areas with rare old trees. Already, its previous choices had included twice more old-growth stands than found in the Tongass as a whole. Its new selections comprise ten times more.
President Roosevelt placed much forest land into the public domain because, as he said, for greed and selfishness, if permitted, “shortsighted men [would] rob our country of half its charm” through “reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things.”
A bill, S. 340, granting Sealaska’s new land-exchange request is on its way to a Senate public-lands committee.
In re-writing existing law to revert rare and highly-valued public land to private use, it would set a bad precedent for more such requests to follow, and for less old-growth forest to survive.
One might hope Senator Alexander, with a long-range view for public-lands protection, would oppose this bill.