Public input on ANCSA land withdrawals due by Oct. 17
September 22, 2022
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is seeking public comment on plans that could free up federal land in the Haines Borough to be conveyed to the state, leased for mineral development and other uses.
Millions of acres of land across Alaska, including in the Haines Borough, were withdrawn, or set aside, under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement and haven't yet been conveyed to Native corporations or the state or formally protected by the federal government.
Now BLM is accepting public comment on revoking the ANCSA withdrawals, which would open lands for conveyances and mineral leasing.
BLM is holding three public information sessions in the coming weeks as it begins to prepare an environmental impact statement regarding 28 million acres of federal land across the state, from the North Slope to the Seward Peninsula down to Haines.
Under ANCSA, the government withdrew unreserved public land “from all forms of appropriation under the public land laws,” including conveyances as well as mining and mineral, oil and gas leasing.
BLM manages about 317,000 acres of land in the Haines Borough — including much of the area between Haines and Skagway and some of the Chilkat Range — but it’s not clear at this point exactly how, or how much of, the land would be impacted. Some of the land has already been opened for the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veteran Allotment program, an initiative to convey 160-acre allotments to Alaska Native military veterans who didn’t file for allotments while serving in the 1960s.
“The ANCSA withdrawals were intended to protect resources, to prevent encumbrances that could interfere with State or Native entitlements, and to study lands for further inclusion into conservation units,” a 2006 BLM report said.
The government prepared public land orders in 2020 and early 2021 to revoke withdrawals on 28 million acres statewide, including in the Ring of Fire management area, which encompasses Haines. Doing so “would have made lands available for selection by Alaska Native Veterans, allowed the State of Alaska to finalize land selections in those regions … and opened all 28 million acres of lands to mineral leasing and mining claim location and entry,” according to a June 2021 BLM document.
BLM says on its website the original purpose of the withdrawals “is no longer applicable.” The 2006 report said that since ANCSA, Congress “has passed significant legislation for the orderly development of the public lands and to protect the environment from adverse impacts,” including more stringent oil, gas and mining regulations.
BLM’s first withdrawal revocations were approved in 2018 in the Goodnews Bay area in Southwest Alaska. More land was opened up in 2019 in the Fortymile area, on the Seward Peninsula and in the Bering Glacier area near Wrangell-St. Elias.
BLM is holding virtual public scoping meetings at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 22, 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 26 and 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 4. Participants are asked to pre-register in advance on BLM’s website.
“This is setting the groundwork for the EIS (environmental impact statement) itself,” said BLM spokesperson James Hart. “They’ll take all those comments, synthesize them, and take them into consideration about where they look during the EIS.”
Public comments are due Oct. 17.
For more information contact Racheal Jones at (907) 290-0307 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.