Podcast: BLM Alaska Public Room Shedding Light on the Process

James Hart
Graphic of map compass and field



[Jim Hart]: Welcome to the BLM Alaska Frontiers podcast, I'm Jim Hart. 


[Tom Schonberger speaking to customers in background]: Or, how about we step over here, like we did last time, and I'll bring it right up. 


[Jim Hart]: Tom Schonberger supervises the BLM Alaska Public Information Center in Anchorage, and he's been busy helping people lately. 


[Vern Jensen speaking to Tom in background]: His wife is from Deering right there.


[Jim Hart] Army veteran Bert Foss is here with his good friend Vern Jensen to look at lands available under the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veterans Land Allotment Program of 2019. 

Three men looking at papers
Tom Schonberger (left) helps Army veteran Bert Foss (center) and Foss’ friend Vern Jensen (right) with Foss’ paperwork for the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veterans Land Allotment Program of 2019. Foss and Jensen met with Schonberger in the BLM Alaska public information center in Anchorage March 24, 2021. Photo by Jim Hart


[Tom Schonberger speaking to Bert Foss in background]: … this section right here. So when you start talking about the land description, which is what all these letters are going to be ... 


[Jim Hart]: The BLM Alaska Public Information Centers, both at Fairbanks and in Anchorage, are primary tools, both in person and online, for the public to easily access records for federally managed public lands, but also volumes of other documents pertaining to public land management. In Bert's case, he's using the public information center, also known simply as the public room, to get some help with the allotment program application process.

Alaska Natives who were serving in the military during the Vietnam era and honorably discharged, may be eligible for an allotment of up to 160 acres of land. It's a huge program with a lot of moving pieces, but one of the most critical items is helping eligible veterans or their heirs select the land they want allotted to them. Tom, thanks for joining us to talk about the allotment program and the public room. 


[Tom Schonberger]: Thanks for having me. Really appreciate it. 


[Jim Hart]: You manage BLM Alaska's storefront, so to speak, and you work with people every day on all sorts of things. Can you give us a brief idea of what that looks like? 


[Tom Schonberger]: Sure. The Public Information Center, we work with public, state and federal agencies and variety of items. We work on a day-to-day basis directly with our miners establishing new mining claims and miners with existing claims. We work with our Alaska Native Veterans on the new Alaska Native Veteran program of 2019. We administer the America the Beautiful National Park pass program for South Central Alaska; we're really the only office doing that right now. We also work with Native allotments, landownership issues and various other land management issues. Also, on a day-to-day basis, we work closely with our BLM district and field offices. 


[Jim Hart]: What are people telling you about the application process and the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veterans Land Allotment Program overall? 


Two men and a woman looking at a computer screen.
Candy Grimes, program manager for the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veterans Land Allotment Program of 2019, helps Bert Foss and Vern Jensen look through lands available for selection under the program.

[Tom Schonberger]: Well, overall, the response has been very positive. Of course, when you look at the application itself for the first time, it can be a bit overwhelming as far as when they ask for land descriptions. What's the personal representative? Do I need one? Do I need these documentations and am I pre-approved? So, a lot of questions people have. Once we've talked through the application-line by-line with them, go over what they need and what this means to them, they get pretty much put at ease and the application flow is a lot smoother. 


[Jim Hart]: What are some of the challenges people are experiencing when trying to navigate the program? 


[Tom Schonberger]: Well, some of the challenges are first off, it can be a bit overwhelming. Where do I go to start with? Who do I ask questions from? I got all these questions: Am I predetermined; am I not predetermined? What does that mean? There's discussions about how to fill out the application as far as this land description thing; how do I do that? Well, do I need a personal representative? What does that entail? Do I need any other documents, or do you have what you need? So, there are a lot of questions that those have going into the program. We have an awesome website, BLM.gov/Alaska, that has a link to this program (blm.gov/Alaska/2019NativeVetsLand). A lot of a lot of great information. There's also a link to the available lands map put together by our GIS section, along with our program manager That is just fabulous and very user friendly. And once we get our Native veterans and their applicants, their families looking at that, the process gets pretty easy and less overwhelming. 


[Jim Hart]: What recommendations do you have for applicants? 


[Tom Schonberger]: The biggest recommendation I've got is start early, and call us if you've got questions. We're here to help you. It's a very overwhelming process at first, even when you look at the application itself, a look at the letter from the BLM, lots of questions come to mind, but biggest thing, start early. If you need help with where to find the information, that's what we're here for. So, give us a call if you want to come in. Here in Anchorage, where you do appointments, we'll sit side by side with you, we’ll pull up the available lands map on the computer and walk you through that process. We can pull up the application; walk you through that. We have access to the program manager, and she can come down and answer any questions you may have, as well. 


[Jim Hart]: Tom, I know there's a link from the BLM Alaska web site that's dedicated to the Alaska Native Veteran's Allotment Program that details all of the required documents. But the public room has some pretty robust content for all of our public lands users, doesn't it? 


[Tom Schonberger]: That they do. We've got brochures, including things on camping, fishing here in Alaska (freshwater fishing), hiking trails, recreational areas, how to pan for gold, how to establish a new mining claim, if that's something you want to do, be it placer or lode. We've got our Junior Ranger program and our Every Kid in a Park program. Other than that, we've got a brand-new Watchable Wildlife Brochure. It shows folks when and where to see flora and fauna throughout the state, and much, much more. 



Three men looking at a computer screen
Tom Schonberger (left) shows locations on a map to veteran Bert Foss (center) and Foss' friend Vern Jensen (right) in the BLM Alaska public information center in Anchorage March 24, 2021. BLM Alaska’s public information center in Anchorage is open by appointment, and they invite Alaska Native veterans who served in the Vietnam era to call anytime they need help with the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veterans Land Allotment Program of 2019.


[Jim Hart]: Thanks for joining us, Tom. 


[Tom Schonberger]: Jim, thanks for having me. Really appreciate it. 


[Jim Hart]: Public lands documents, such as title plats, mining claims, land-use plans, and environmental impact statements can be very technical and intimidating, and the maps can be a bit tough to figure out when people first look at them, which is why the public room staff is ready to help.  In the end of their visit, Bert and Vern got what they needed. 


[Bert Foss speaking to Tom and Candy in the background]: We'll be in touch. 


[Jim Hart]: At the end of their visit, Bert and Vern got what they needed,


[Tom Schonberger speaking to Bert Foss in the background]: Alright, you know where to find us. 


[Jim Hart]: and they know they can always call in the public room when they need a hand from the BLM.


[Jim Hart]: That's it for this Frontiers podcast. Make sure to check out the BLM Alaska website for anything related to the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veterans Land Allotment Program of 2019, but also check out the public room website to find hours of operation and details about making appointments.


[Jim Hart]: The Frontiers podcast is a production of the BLM Alaska Office of Communications.

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