Alaskans Fear for Their Way of Life


Like a lot of people in Alaska, Don Hernandez has always fed his family with deer he shoots and fish he catches in the Tongass National Forest.

He says his way of life is threatened by a plan to give the American Indian-owned Sealaska title to 85,000 acres of National Forest land. Sealaska wants to log 75,000 acres, including areas of large-tree old-growth forest surrounding Hernandez's hometown of Point Baker.

…Hernandez, who is scheduled to testify against the proposal at a congressional hearing today, says he's worried about "our ability to go out, hunt and fish and help provide for our families. It all depends on good old-growth habitat and healthy stream habitat for spawning salmon."

…If the proposal passes, it would set a precedent for negotiations with the nine other regional corporations that have yet to settle their land claims, says Marcilynn Burke, deputy director for programs and policy of the federal Bureau of Land Management.

…John Schoen, a senior scientist with the conservation group Audubon Alaska, says Sealaska wants to swap its rights to average land for access to prime land 10 times richer in timber and wildlife habitat than the rest of the Tongass. The parcels are part of the forest that is considered large-tree forest, which is the best habitat for bear, white tail deer and salmon. It is more valuable for commercial logging, he says.