Governor’s arctic policy adviser urges UA involvement in arctic issues

In April 2015, the United States will become chair of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum for arctic states and indigenous people to discuss and propose conservation and development efforts in the north. In this transition, the state of Alaska arctic policy adviser has called for university involvement in arctic issues.

Arctic policy adviser Craig Fleener gave a speech Jan. 19 at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium’s Arctic Panel. During the speech, he said Alaskans ought to develop better awareness about environmental issues. He said this includes supporting and representing indigenous communities, citing his time as Gwich’in Council International chair on the Arctic Council , where Alaska representation was sparse.

In order to help Alaskans develop a better understanding of the changing climate, Fleener emphasized the importance of involving the University of Alaska system in research. The goals he stated at the panel meeting have implications both on a state level and on the international stage, as well.

“We need a focus on research,” Fleener said. “We need to empower the university system in Alaska to be more engaged, to really, truly, ultimately be the clearinghouse for arctic expertise in the world. And that’s something that I sincerely support.”

The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission published its 2015 final report last week, emphasizing the goals Fleener communicated, including university involvement. The commission was formed in 2012 as a legislative entity for the state of the Alaska.

In addition to the report’s university endorsement, Fleener has shown support through direct involvement with the UAA. He visited Jeffrey Welker’s Arctic Climate Change class last month to discuss environment and policy issues with students. He will return this week for another discussion with Douglas Causey’s class, Environmental Issues of the North.

Fleener, who earned his bachelor of science in natural resource management from UAF in 1999 , suggested UA could ideally play a key role in consolidating arctic research in a publicly accessible area, which would prevent redundant studies and conserve funds spent on those studies.

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“(The Arctic Council’s Arctic Portal) was intended to be a clearinghouse for all of the data. We still don’t have all of the data that needs to be consolidated,” Fleener said. “My hopes, ultimately is that the University of Alaska — probably Fairbanks — could be the place where we house all of the research.”

However, it has been several years since Fleener served on the Arctic Council, and the Arctic Portal has become more comprehensive since his time.

“(A) few years ago, (the) Arctic Portal was more a concept rather than an established and comprehensive portal,” said Arctic Portal project manager Federica Scarpa,  “Especially during the last three years, we have been developing it and collecting new information. … We are also aware that we have to continue improving, and the project is not yet completed.”


In light of this, Scarpa stated the possibility of the Arctic Portal collaborating with the University of Alaska to further consolidate information. UAA’s potential to consolidate research with UAF and the UA system’s possible collaboration with the Arctic Portal are still undetermined in wake of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission report.

Causey, the chancellor’s senior arctic policy adviser at UAA, said the report will provide guidance to university actions.

“(Fleener’s) job — our job — is to look at the various areas (of the report), see what the recommendations are, and that will direct what they’re gonna ask the university to do,” Causey said.

Though Fleener suggested UAF as the hub of UA research involvement, Causey said each university in the system has its own area of expertise to offer the state in support of its goals stated at the Arctic Panel. Both he and Institute for Arctic Policy cofounder Michael Sfraga at UAF emphasized the desire to work together across the UA system in this process.

“You know, we are very competitive in sports … but when it comes to trying to help the state address its needs, I think the idea of competition is not as much as people believe, because our faculty work together across all campuses,” Sfraga said.

The general goals Fleener stated at the panel will come to top priority in the coming months as the United States assumes chairmanship of the Arctic Council for the next two years. UA has already taken steps to become a key player in policymaking during this time, but the extent of its involvement remains to be seen.

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The writer includes historical background and credentials for speakers and their knowledge base (perspective, disposition, loyalties, funding).

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