Summer is a busy time for state land managers: our parks are filled with visitors, hundreds of firefighters are battling blazes in the Interior, and all manner of field work - from mineral studies to archeological digs - is under way.
In addition to this summer activity, the State of Alaska is pursuing two new initiatives focused on the responsible development of our world-class natural resources: promoting locally-grown food to Alaskans and their families, and seeking to explore the hydrocarbon potential within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain.
Recently, the Department of Natural Resources partnered with the Mat-Su Chapter of the Alaska Farm Bureau to fund the Alaska Grown campaign now airing on local TV and radio stations as well as social media channels such as YouTube and Facebook. (https://www.youtube.com/user/AlaskaGrownProgram/ and https://www.facebook.com/dnr.alaskagrown)
In these radio and TV spots, which launched July 4 and will run for the rest of the year, First Lady Sandy Parnell and Alaska folk musician Hobo Jim urge Alaskans to purchase Alaska-grown agricultural products at farmers markets and grocery stores throughout the state.
Our goal is to support local farmers and businesses and help foster growth in our agricultural sector. We hope Alaskans will ask for Alaska-grown produce wherever they shop or dine out.
On a related note, DNR and other state agencies are working together on Governor Sean Parnell's new Alaska Food Resource Working Group, which will develop policies and activities to increase the purchase and consumption of local wild seafood and agricultural products, and will work with private and public sector organizations to promote a healthy food system.
Creation of this working group was a key priority for legislative leaders during the 2013 session and dovetails well with Gov. Parnell's emergency preparedness initiatives.
Our second initiative relates to one of North America's most promising undeveloped hydrocarbon resources - the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as the 1002 Area. The majority of Alaskans support drilling in the 1002 Area, but for decades, the question of whether to explore and develop this land has been deadlocked in Washington D.C.
This is why the State of Alaska is proposing - under existing federal statutes and regulations - to explore this highly-prolific hydrocarbon basin with thorough, three-dimensional seismic surveys. With new data, we will finally understand ANWR's true potential for our state and country. Members of Congress, state and federal leaders and the general public will make better-informed decisions about how to manage and develop the coastal plain.
We believe the federal government has a continuing obligation to gather such data instead of relying on limited testing from the mid-1980s. But they aren't doing it, so we are proposing to do it for them.
This marks a potential turning point for the debate over the 1002 Area - one in which the state is not waiting for the federal government to act but instead exercises its rights under federal law and takes the lead on scientific work and financing of exploration activities.
Section 1002(e) of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act clearly states that the Secretary of the Interior shall approve a 1002 exploration plan - such as the one that we submitted to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell last week - that meets the criteria set forth in ANILCA and its accompanying regulations. The Secretary has 120 days in which to do so. The clock is ticking. All Alaskans should keep a close eye on whether the federal government abides by Section 1002(e)'s clear mandates for approving an exploration plan or chooses to ignore them.
While agriculture and hydrocarbons may not seem to have a lot in common, they are both important natural resources for Alaskans.
The issues of promoting a sustainable agricultural sector and opening ANWR have challenged Alaskans for decades. But it is important to keep looking for solutions. That is what we are doing.
By working together and by not being afraid to go on offense we can achieve great things in our state, now and in the future.
Dan Sullivan is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.