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Omnibus Wilderness Debacle Ahead: Sealaska Land Grab

The House Rules Committee on Monday, June 18 will consider the Conservation and Economic Growth Act (H.R. 2578).  Among the provisions contained in the wilderness omnibus package is a controversial bill that would allow Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) most generous corporate supporter to clear cut old-growth trees in the Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

The Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Act (H.R.1408) is one of 14 measures currently included in the bill. If passed, H.R.1408 will grant portions of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to Sealaska Corporation of Juneau, allowing them to chop down trees that started growing before the Revolutionary War. Unless an amendment it introduced before Friday, H.R.1408 will be included in the proposal when it goes to the House floor for a vote.

H.R. 1408 is bad news for Republicans and conservatives for several reasons.

For starters, as I have written elsewhere, the measure is clearly payback for Sealaska’s pivotal help during Murkowski’s write-in bid. Conservatives must decide whether we will reward Murkowski’s nefarious undermining of the Alaskan GOP and her secretive attempt to earmark in an allegedly post-earmark era.

But more importantly, conservatives must decide whether they want to give the Democratic Senate an opportunity to beguile House Republicans for attempting to clear-cut the largest remaining temperate rain forest in North America—to say nothing of what President Barack Obama would have to say.

H.R.1408 is bad policy for Alaska and bad politics for Republicans.

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