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Oceans-Policy Group Visits to Hear UAF, Native Perspectives on Changing Arctic

Van Ness Feldman

Dozens of national experts on ocean policy, research and business gathered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks this week to talk about how climate change is affecting the Arctic Ocean and coastal communities. Members of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative’s held an Arctic Ocean Leadership Roundtable at UAF to learn about its ongoing Arctic-research resources, and then traveled north to talk with Inuit people to get their perspective on changes they've seen in the region.

Former Washington state Congressman Norm Dicks is among several political heavyweights who along with other public- and private-sector representatives serve with the U.S. Joint Ocean Commission, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that’s working on recommendations for reforming federal ocean policies.

Dicks is a member of the commission’s leadership council, which spent Monday and Tuesday at UAF to talk with experts here about the Arctic Ocean and changes under way in the region.

“What do we do about these serious threats like climate change, ocean acidification, the methane issue, permafrost, the melting ice – all of these things,” Dicks said. “And how do you develop an economy up here in Alaska?”

Dicks says the commission is working on recommendations for President Obama and the next administration, on updating federal ocean policy to protect both the environmental and economic health of the oceans that lie on all sides of the United States.

“The rate at which this thing is accelerating and that global warming is occurring is going to cause substantial problems unless we get a handle on it,” he said.

Dicks says commission members began a conversation on the Arctic Ocean in a December meeting in Washington, D.C. And they continuing it this week by coming to talk with people here who study the ocean, and depend on it for their livelihood.

“We’re so glad to be here at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where they’ve had a group of incredibly talented scholars to educate us, the laymen, on these issues.”

Dicks says several commission members also are consulting with Alaska Natives here in the Interior and along the Arctic Ocean coast to gain a different kind of expertise.

“We’re here to try to find out from the locals, the people who live here, the Alaska Natives, about what the impact of all these things are, and how do you do development and protect the environment at the same time. Which is not easy to do,” he said.

Credit Consortium for Ocean Leadership
Sherri Goodman

Sherri Goodman is another member of the commission’s leadership council who traveled here. She’s president and CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that represents leading public- and private-sector ocean-research institutions, as well as aquariums and ocean industries. And she’s among a group of commission members that flew to Barrow Wednesday to talk with Inuit people there.

“All of us are here to learn directly from the people of Alaska about the situations that they are facing here today as a result of the changing Arctic, and what policies could be developed to address both the changes in the Arctic and the security, safety and other needs,” she said. 

The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative grew out of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, created in 2000 by President George W. Bush, and the Pew Oceans Commission, formed by the Pew Charitable Trust.

In 2010, the commission reorganized and focused its efforts on promoting development of a comprehensive U.S. national ocean policy.

The organization issued a report in 2013 with four major recommendations that called for enhancing the resiliency of coastal communities and ocean ecosystems to adapt to the dramatic changes under way; also, improving Arctic research and management; promoting ocean renewable-energy development; and supporting state and regional ocean and coastal priorities.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.