Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A needed reminder on land transfers: Senator tells BLM nominee about unmet promises to state and Native corporations

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorial Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Tuesday took an opportunity to highlight the fact that the state of Alaska and many Alaska Native corporations still lack title to the federal lands they were promised decades ago. Much progress has been made in recent years, but it’s important to keep the issue in front of top federal land managers until the job is done. Murkowski, R-Alaska, brought up the topic during a Senate committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on the nomination of Neil Kornze to become the new national director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Kornze, a former top aide to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has led the agency on a temporary basis since March. Alaska became a state 54 years ago and was promised about 105 million acres. Alaska Native corporations were to receive 44 million acres of land under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which Congress passed in 1971 and President Richard Nixon signed — 42 years ago today. Yet title to more than a quarter of these lands has yet to be transferred, Murkowski said Tuesday. The state still lacks title to 37 million acres, while Native corporations are waiting on 11 million acres, she said. Not all of the delay is attributable to the federal government or its bureaucracy. One of the biggest problems has been a lack of money to survey the land before it is transferred. Murkowski and other members of the congressional delegation have helped provide the money, but it is a staggering total. Tens of millions of dollars are spent year after year. The effort is paying off. Title conveyances are now a regular feature in the Federal Register. Typical are two announced during the past week. On Monday, the BLM said it would transfer about 800 acres of surface title to the Paimuit Corp. near the village of the same name on the Bering Sea coast just north of Hooper Bay. Subsurface title goes to the area’s regional corporation, Calista. On Tuesday, BLM announced it would transfer surface title to 45.57 acres on Kodiak Island to the Koniag Corp., the regional Native corporation. Less typical is the announcement last week from the BLM about a transfer completion ceremony at the district office in Fairbanks. BLM’s Ron Dunton, deputy state director for lands and cadastral survey, signed the patent for the last 693.92 acres owed to the village corporation Evansville Inc. Evansville is located near Bettles on the Koyukuk River, 180 miles northwest of Fairbanks. The corporation now has title to the entire 69,149 acres promised by ANCSA. That’s progress. It was good of Sen. Murkowski to remind the new BLM director that it needs to continue.

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