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Letter to the President From ASRC


December 3, 2010

The Honorable Barack Obama


The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Arctic Slope Regional Corporation ("ASRC") is the Alaska Native Corporation formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act ("ANCSA") that encompasses the entire North Slope of Alaska. ASRC has a growing shareholder population of approximately 11 ,000, and represents eight villages on the North Slope:  Point Hope; Point Lay; Wainwright; Atqasuk; Barrow; Nuiqsut; Kaktovik; and Anaktuvuk Pass. On behalf of ASRC and its Iñupiat Eskimo owners, I am writing in response to an effort to, once again, bring back to the national stage the designation of the Coastal Plain within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ("ANWR").

On November 19, 2010, a group of Democratic Senators sent you a letter asking that you grant the ANWR "the strongest poss ible protections," which we presume means or includes wilderness designation for the Refuge's Coastal Plain. That letter also purported to share with you some of the history of the Refuge and the position of "many Iñupiat people" across the North Slope and other Alaska Natives, who, the letter suggests, oppose oil and gas development in ANWR and support the letter's call for such “protections." The history represented in the letter, however, is incomplete and misleading. Moreover, recognizing that not one of the signatories to the letter actually represents Alaska Native people, specifically the Iñupiat, the position with respect to the management of ANWR also is misrepresented.

Because of these misrepresentations, ASRC believes it necessary to respond to the November 19 letter and to accurately present the relevant history of the area and share its views and those of its many Iñupiat shareholders across the North Slope.

Despite the letter's statement that "almost the entirety of Alaska's North Slope" has been "slated for oil and gas development," eight million acres, or 42 percent, of the 19.6 million acre Refuge – including 500,000 acres of its eastern coastal plain-already have been designated by Congress as wilderness under the Wilderness Act.  Most of the remainder of the Refuge also is closed to oil and gas development, though not formally designated as wilderness.  As further elaborated below, given the unique status of ANWR's Coastal Plain under Federal law, the enduring presence of the Iñupiat people in the area, the subsistence needs of these Native and other rural residents of the area, the extent of existing designated wilderness in the area, and other relevant considerations, we urge you not to take any steps toward wilderness designation for the Coastal Plain under the Wilderness Act or to adopt similar new "strong protections" for the area.

What we now know as the Refuge was originally established in 1960, when President Eisenhower's Secretary of the Interior, Fred Seaton, signed a Public Land Order establishing the 8.9 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Range. After years of debate over the fate of the Range, in 1980, Congress enacted the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).  ANILCA doubled the size of the Range, renamed it the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and designated eight million acres (most of the original Range) as wilderness. The remaining northernmost 1.5 million acres of the Refuge, the Coastal Plain, was addressed in Section 1002 of ANILCA, and is now referred to as the 1002 Area.

Importantly, under ANILCA, the Coastal Plain (or 1002 Area) has unique status with respect to the prospect of future oil and gas development that must be considered in the context of any decision to impose substantial new protections on the area.  Section 1002 of ANILCA specifically reserved judgment on the future of the Coastal Plain, setting the area aside for further assessment of its oil and gas development potential and its fish and wildlife resources. In 1987, after six years of environmental, geologic, and economic study required by ANILCA, the Department of the Interior recommended that the 1002 Area be opened to responsible oil and gas development. Since completion of that report, numerous wells have been drilled and oil fields discovered near ANWR.  However, in Section 1003 of ANILCA, Congress prohibited any development of oil and gas within ANWR, including the Coastal Plain, until authorized by a future act of Congress. The decision as to whether or not the Coastal Plain should be made available for oil and gas development, therefore, has been specifically reserved by and to Congress. As such, we urge you and your Administration not to take any action that would have the intent or effect of pre-determining Congress 's decision relating to this reserved authority.

The management of ANWR and its Coastal Plain-which also is the subject of an ongoing comprehensive conservation planning effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-is of critical importance to ASRC and the Iñupiat who live in and near ANWR and who are ASRC's shareholders.

ASRC is committed both to increasing the economic and shareholder development opportunities within our region, and to preserving the Iñupiat culture and traditions that strengthen both our shareholders and ASRC.  One of our founding principles is respect for the Iñupiat heritage. A portion of our revenues is invested into supporting initiatives that aim to promote healthy communities and sustainable economies. By adhering to the traditional values of protecting the land, the environment and the Iñupiat culture, we have successfully adapted and prospered in an ever-changing economic climate.

ASRC and Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation (“KIC"), the Native Corporation for the Village of Kaktovik, own more than 92,000 subsurface and surface acres, respectively, in the Coastal Plain.  In 1971, ANCSA gave KIC surface rights to 92,160 acres of federal lands adjacent to the Village (the only settlement in ANWR), originally allowing KIC to select 69,120 of these acres within the Range and the remainder outside the Range.  In 1980, ANILCA subsequently allowed KIC to relinquish its selected lands outside the Refuge and instead to select the remainder of its Corporation lands within the Refuge. ASRC holds the subsurface rights to these lands. These lands hold significant potential for onshore oil and gas development.  However, as a result of Section 1003 of ANILCA, these important economic resources remain off limits to ASRC and the greater Alaska Native community (through the revenue-sharing mechanism provided for under section 7(i) of ANCSA) until further act of Congress.

Contrary to the statements in the letter regarding Alaska Native interests with respect to the management of ANWR, it is critically important to ASRC that your Administration not take any action that would have the effect of foreclosing the substantial economic opportunities associated with the potential for future development of the Coastal Plain's enormous projected onshore oil and gas reserves. Responsible oil and gas development of the 1002 Area of ANWR would provide a safe and secure source of energy to the nation, create important jobs for Alaska Natives and throughout the country, and help ensure future flows through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which is now operating at only one-third of its original capacity.  With advances in technology, it is possible to develop the Coastal Plain's oil and gas reserves and allow access to much-needed energy resources with minimal land disturbance in the Refuge and without any significant disturbance to wildlife. Technological advances have significantly reduced the "footprint" of oil and gas development. And, generally speaking, caribou and other wildlife populations have shown themselves to be highly adaptive to, and have not been adversely affected by, people, machines, and appropriate development (including oil and gas development) in the Refuge or nearby areas.

We urge you to be mindful of the fact that the Refuge is, and has long been, the home of Alaska Native people who continue to maintain a strong connection to the land that is fundamental to our very way of life.  In addition to the substantial value that our people (and the greater American public) will draw from responsible development of the Coastal Plain's bountiful oil and gas resources if and when Congress permits it, the land and its resources are essential to our subsistence way of life.  Contrary to the suggestions in the letter, adopting "the strongest possible protections," such as wilderness management, for the Refuge would severely impair the ability of the Refuge to continue to provide for subsistence use and related needs of rural residents on the North Slope by substantially limiting access by subsistence users to Refuge's natural resources. We hope that you will remain mindful of this concern, and not take any action that could deprive our people of access to and use of these resources or otherwise adversely impact the culture and heritage that lies at the very foundation of who we are.

The Village of Kaktovik, the only village within the 19.6 million acres of the ANWR's boundaries, is situated within the 1.5 million acres of the Coastal Plain.  The population of the Kaktovik community is significantly-over eighty percent-Alaska Native or part Native. Substantial new "protections" for the Coastal Plain would severely impact the subsistence activities and traditional way of life for the residents of the Village of Kaktovik. Despite being private land owners within the Coastal Plain, the Village would be surrounded by wilderness or similarly restrictive areas, making the villagers essentially refugees on their own land. Due to its isolation, the Village has maintained its Iñupiat Eskimo traditions. As with other rural communities in the region, subsistence hunting, fishing, and whaling are a major element of the traditional Native culture in the area and a primary source of nutrition, and play a major role in the local economy.  Restrictive wilderness or wilderness-type management carries with it significant limitations on access and uses that will choke off traditional activities. Motorized access to the vast hunting areas around the villages by snowmachine and other vehicles, and shelters and semi-permanent structures used for camping and hunting activities, would be limited and problematic.  Indeed, Alaska Native communities already confront these issues with existing nearby designated wilderness areas.

The thin ribbon of coastal plain that exists between the mountain front and the coastline must not be considered for designation as wilderness or subjected to similarly restrictive management.

This coastal plain includes the total remainder of caribou and waterfowl hunting areas, fish camps, ancestral campsites, and existing Native allotments. Life is difficult enough already with current wilderness areas.  Sending this burden further northward to overlie even more fishing, waterfowl, and caribou harvest areas, gravesites and birthplaces, Native allotments, and semi-permanent hunting shelters would be devastating to Iñupiat for whom this area is home and their source of subsistence.

A year ago, you acknowledged at the White House Tribal Nations Conference that:  "Promises were broken. You were told your lands, your religion, your cultures, your languages were not yours to keep.  And that's a history that we've got to acknowledge if we are to move forward."  Proposing the Coastal Plain for wilderness designation or adopting similar type restrictions for the Coastal Plain is fundamentally inconsistent with the promises that were made to the only Native Americans who live within the boundaries of the 19.6 million acres of ANWR.  The residents of the Village of Kaktovik already are deprived of substantial economic opportunity by virtue of the fact that the Coastal Plain is closed to such activities as oil and gas development without further act of Congress.  The USGS estimates a median of 10.6 billion barrels of oil within the Coastal Plain, and yet as private land owners within the Coastal Plain, Kaktovik is banned by Federal law from taking advantage of this substantial economic resource.  Proposing further restrictions to shut down the community's traditional activities on top of this seems fundamentally inconsistent with your statements and Federal Indian policy.

Finally, as a Coastal Plain Resource Assessment: Report and Recommendation to the Congress of the United States and Final Legislative Environmental Impact Statement completed in the late 1980s concluded, designation of the 1002 Area as wilderness "is not necessary to protect the 1002 area environment and is not in the best interest of the Nation." The current statutory and regulatory regime governing management of the Refuge is sufficient to protect the values for which the Refuge was established and must be managed.  ANILCA sections 1002 and 1003 prohibit oil and gas development until further Act of Congress.  Because of the existing obligations and responsibilities of the Fish and Wildlife Service that guide management of the Coastal Plain and the fact that the Coastal Plain already is closed to oil and gas development until further act of Congress, there simply is no valid reason to designate the Coastal Plan as wilderness or to impose similar type restrictions on the area.

As discussed above, the management of ANWR's Coastal Plain is critically important to ASRC and the Native Iñupiat people who live in and near ANWR. We are truly and, in contrast to the rest of the country and countries around the world, directly connected to what the letter calls the "biological heart" of the Refuge. It is the very place that our people have called home since time immemorial, and it continues to provide the resources that support our survival.

As you consider the future management of ANWR and its Coastal Plain, it is critical that you and those in your Administration be mindful of those who live and work on these lands, and provide for future management of the Refuge that fully recognizes our continuing presence in the Refuge and helps ensure that presence for years to come.  In this regard, it is essential that your Administration not recommend additional areas of ANWR for inclusion within the National Wilderness Preservation System or subject such areas to similarly restrictive management. It is also essential that management of the area ensure continued access to subsistence resources that is sufficient to meet the needs of Alaska Natives and other rural residents.  Finally, it is important that your Administration actively consult with ASRC, and the Kaktovik lfiupiat Corporation to ensure ample opportunities for local communities within our region to meaningfully participate in any decisions with respect to the future of the area.

ASRC appreciates your serious consideration of these concerns.


Rex Allen Rock, Sr.


President and Chief Executive Officer

Cc: Senator Lisa Murkowski

Senator Mark Begich

Congressman Don Young

Philip Tikluk, Kaktovik lfiupiat Corporation

Mayor Edward Itta, North Slope Borough

Governor Sean Parnell
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