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Longstanding BSNC & State of AK Land Dispute Close to Settlement

Forty years after the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed, the Bering Straits Native Corporation and the State of Alaska should finally put behind them a land dispute.

On Tuesday, the full Congress passed The Salmon Lake Land Selection Resolution Act – a settlement between the State of Alaska, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bering Straits Native Corporation. After compromise and agreement on all sides and with the support of the senate and congress, the legislation now moves to the President’s desk for signing.

BSNC’s Vice President Matt Ganley:

So this really is a…great agreement because we were able to get everybody to agree. There’s compromise on both sides. And the beauty of it in this day and age is it received bipartisan supporting DC because it was so noncontroversial.

After statehood in 1959, the State of Alaska selected lands around Salmon Lake. And in the 1970s, after the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed, entitling Bering Straits Native Corporation with more than 145-thousand acres of land, BSNC’s selections overlapped the state claims. The area 40 miles north of Nome is an important subsistence hunting and fishing area. Ganley says when the corporation selected the land the BLM issued a rejection in the 90s. BSNC then appealed the rejection and decided to try to negotiate with the state. And today – Ganley says after successful negotiations the state essentially receives the west half of the lake with BSNC receiving the east half of Salmon Lake.

I am really pleased. It’s been a very, very long process. I don’t think people realize how long a simple bill can take sometimes. But we’re really happy. It just moves us a lot closer to receiving all of the lands that BSNC is entitled to under ANCSA.

With the agreement BSNC will receive two other parcels of land on the north and south sides of the Imuruk Basin – east of Teller. Wetlands in the Imuruk Basin are vital for migratory waterfowl and fishing. And Salmon Lake is the spawning area for red salmon in the Pilgrim River. While BSNC owns the surface and subsurface rights to the land, Ganley says the management will first come with subsistence and recreation resources in mind.

So those lands need to be managed with that resource in mind. You know, you won’t be seeing any grand hotels being built on Salmon Lake I can assure you that. So it’ll be managed for the benefit of the shareholders and subsistence users in the region.

Ganley says one of the people instrumental in negotiations with the State of Alaska was former board member and President of the native corporation – the late Charlie Johnson who died this April.

He and I met with the state over the course of about three years – a meeting or two a year to sit down and negotiate the agreement and settlement. And it’s too bad Charlie isn’t here to see it because I think he would be really pleased.

The BLM retains the ownership of the nine-acre campground at Salmon Lake.