Commentary: Begich has good idea on Arctic stewardship

Alaskans are well aware of something the rest of the country generally overlooks: We are an Arctic nation. As the Arctic warms, polar ice retreats and a race for resources gets under way, the United States has a huge stake in what is happening in the far north. So do the Alaskans who live at the front lines, coping with the profound change that's under way. That's why U.S. Sen. Mark Begich wants to give Alaska's Arctic residents a formal way to offer their advice and perspective on decisions affecting the region.

His idea is modeled on the successful citizens' advisory council set up in the early 1990s for Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. That council is a well-funded watchdog, keeping an eye on the oil pipeline and tanker operations to help avoid a repeat disaster.

Ideally, the Arctic citizens' council would speak to a broad range of issues, not just oil development. That's how Sen. Begich proposed it, as part of his broader call to set a national policy for the Arctic, which he delivered earlier this month.

In a speech to an Arctic symposium in Annapolis, Md., he outlined what the nation should be doing.

"A key component of any national policy for the changing Arctic," he said, "must be the involvement of indigenous peoples of the north." Their local and traditional knowledge will bring valuable perspective to decisions that have to be made.

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