Lands package with Alaska impact signed into law

Promise of Native allotments for Vietnam vets, Chugach region land study move forward

A federal lands bundle that includes a promise of Alaska Native allotments for Vietnam veterans and a Chugach region lands study which could lead to an exchange of acreage was signed into law March 12 by President Donald Trump.

S. 47, the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, formerly known as the Natural Resources Management Act, includes over 120 public lands, resources, sportsmen, conservation and water management bills.

Putting the bipartisan legislation together has been a five-year process that involved some balance between Republicans and Democrats and the House and the Senate, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who introduced S. 47 with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, in January. The package passed the Senate by a vote of 92-8, and then the House approved it 363-2, she said.

The legislation overall “was a visual signal that we can work together, even when we are slogging through some pretty contentious stuff, we can make things happen,” Murkowski said.

HR 1867, the Alaska Native Veterans Land Allotment Equity Act, establishes a program to allow Alaska Native Vietnam veterans to receive land allotments in Alaska.

The process by which veterans may apply for these allotments “is a way off, but at least we have a path forward,” Murkowski said, during a teleconference from Washington, D.C.

The federal Bureau of Land Management now has 18 months to write regulations and once those regulations are published in the Federal Register those individuals who are deemed eligible will have five year to submit an application for an allotment, she said.

“Folks should be looking for when the regulations get laid down by the BLM. Until then there is no process to participate in,” Murkowski said.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, had sponsored the Alaska Native land allotment legislation in the last Congress.

HR  211, The Chugach Region Lands Study Act, gives the Interior Department, in coordination with the Department of Agriculture 18 months to identify sufficient acres of economically viable federal land that may be exchanged with the Chugach Alaska Corp. The legislation notes that this land exchange is necessary because the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has acquired surface estate to 250,000 acres of interests in Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act surface estate in lands in which Chugach owns the mineral estate. The exchange would allow EVOS to pursue conservation goals, while providing the regional Alaska Native corporation with land that is more economically viable.

Murkowski emphasized the importance of some other bills within the package, including the National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization, which includes reauthorization of the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program of the U.S. Geological Survey through fiscal year 2023,

And The National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act. The latter directs the USGS to establish the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System to protect U.S. citizens from volcanic activity. The bill provides necessary resources and direction to modernize the networks used to monitor volcanoes within the U.S.