Native corporation Leisnoi, Inc., logging on its land there in the past few years with considerable criticism from neighbors and environmentalists, has finally responded to some of its criticisms, although activists wonder whether it has said enough.
Last weekend, the Daily Mirror’s editor and its publisher accompanied activists on a plane ride above Chiniak to survey the logging.
The Mirror observed significant clear-cutting over the lands owned by Leisnoi, but noted no signs of illegal cuts on an adjacent 800 acres owned by Kodiak Island Borough.
Nevertheless, the view of the partially denuded landscape, the ocean of tree stumps, the detritus of dead trees and the growing stockpiles of freshly felled Sitka spruces could dismay even the most hard-hearted developer.
Environmental concerns drive the debate, and so does its taciturn corporate culture and history. Leisnoi and its holdings on the Kodiak archipelago have seen plenty of controversy. No one seems to doubt, however, whether Leisnoi should be able to log on its land, but they dislike the way that it has done so.
“What first drove my attention to this was speaking to the Chiniak residents and how it was affecting them — the roads, frankly the disrespect,” said Bonny McWethy, a chief organizer for the Kodiak Conservation Society, an unofficial moniker for the anti-logging group.
“The public is concerned about clear-cutting, habitat loss, erosion, the lack of buffer zones, the spraying of herbicides and dangerous road conditions caused by the logging operations. We are asking for more responsible practices,” said McWethy.
McWethy organized a protest on May 17 at Leisnoi’s shareholders informational meeting at Koniag’s corporate office on Near Island. The shareholders meeting is scheduled at 11 a.m. The protesters will be there around 9:30 a.m.
Meanwhile, Leisnoi, which received the land on Chiniak decades ago as part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, responded to complaints.
“As an Alaskan Native corporation, it is Leisnoi’s right to provide our shareholders benefits while managing our land and preserving our heritage. Our primary economic enterprise, at this time, is the timber operations in Chiniak,” Von Veeh, Lesnoi’s CEO, said in a statement.
Peter Hanley, a Chiniak resident who has been outspoken against Leisnoi’s practices, described Veeh’s response as “terse.”
“Leisnoi have every right as an ANCSA corporation to use their lands for the benefit of their shareholders,” he said. “To our knowledge Leisnoi never evaluated other economic opportunities to develop their Chiniak lands.”
Veeh said, “Leisnoi has a contract to sell timber and intends to follow through with its obligations.”
He added that the company plans to have more than 1 million Sitka Spruce seedlings planted in Chiniak.
For locals like McWethy and Sadie McCusker, formative and recreational ties to Chiniak abound.
McCusker, a 24-year-old massage therapist who viewed the clear-cutting from the plane, recalled:
“I went to college and came back and all of a sudden there were restrictions. It was now Leisnoi property.”
For Leisnoi, Chiniak logging is just the latest chapter in a rife with controversy over its landholdings. It came under fire in the 1970s with an investigation of alleged “phantom communities” it was reporting to get land claims on the archipelago fulfilled.
Renowned syndicated investigative journalist Jack Anderson wrote that Leisnoi, Inc., had tried to “euchre Uncle Sam out of 600,000 acres of valuable public land by setting up phantom native villages to claim the land.” Then there was a decades long battle with rancher Omar Stratman, ending recently.
An event seeking to bring the quarreling parties together – a barbecue at Rendezvous with live music and dancing — was recently canceled when Toni Munsey, the venue’s owner, saw a need for a quieter discussion when the timing was right.
“This has to be done in a quiet situation I think and of course Leisnoi would be invited, to just sit and talk and see if we can change things,” Munsey said.
Munsey acknowledges that public outcry on logging has been quiet for a while, but was awakened when McWethy came on the scene.
“I think people are just fed up. They can’t get any answers and all of a sudden we get this young fire-starter and she’s not letting up, and I think people are just starting to wake up a little bit,” she said.
Contact Mirror Editor Peter J. Mladineo at firstname.lastname@example.org