A USGS researcher took a picture of this nearly century-old whaling boat in July 2007 along the Beaufort Sea coast near Lonely, Alaska. The boat washed away to sea just a few months later. Courtesy of Benjamin Jones, USGSThe United States is one of only eight Arctic nations in the world, overseeing a region that is at the forefront of climate change. As the majority landowner in Alaska, the Federal government is responsible for the development and conservation of natural resources in the state. An interagency working group released a report advancing an Arctic integrated management strategy for the swiftly changing region. The need has become apparent that management decisions need to use the best available science to account for cultural, environmental and economic factors in development efforts.

An Arctic Integrated Management and Planning Initiative

In a press release, Interior Deputy Secretary, David J. Hayes says, “This report chronicles how Arctic residents are dealing with rapid, climate change-induced impacts on their resources and traditional ways of life at the same time that new economic activity and opportunities are emerging — notably oil and gas, marine transportation, tourism and mining. It is imperative that we reduce redundancies and streamline federal efforts as we safely and responsibly explore and develop Alaska’s vast resources while preserving the region’s rich ecosystems that will sustain future generations.”

Using input from Alaska stakeholders, the working group has prepared the Managing for the Future in a Rapidly Changing Arctic report to forward its recommendations to President Obama. These recommendations are far-reaching and ambitious, with the laudable goals of strengthening partnerships, encouraging stakeholder engagement and consolidating environmental reviews. Reality tells us that Federal agencies have their own issues and priorities. It will be interesting to see if a more coordinated approach to management is possible, based on the Alaskan experience to date. The full report is available for viewing online.

The inter-agency working group published these goals in their report for managing the Arctic:

  • Whole-of-government coordination to improve efficiency and operational certainty
  • Direct and meaningful partnership with stakeholders
  • Science-based decision-making focused on ensuring sustainable ecosystems
  • Adaptive approaches guided by ongoing research and monitoring
  • A region-wide planning approach that looks across jurisdictional boundaries
  • Improved understanding and consideration of the cumulative impacts of human activities in the region

One outgrowth of the planning initiative is the launch of an Arctic Science Portal operated by the Arctic Research Commission at http://www.arctic.gov/portal/. The Commission, chaired by former Alaskan Lieutenant Governor, Fran Ulmer, seeks to provide better access to scientific information about the Arctic to land use managers.

Climate conditions in the United States Arctic are changing more rapidly than those being experienced in the lower states. We can hope in Alaska that this Federal effort to improve its planning capability is a success.

Copyright – 2013 by Alan Sorum.

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