For generations, Alaskans have long pinned their hopes on the Arctic's economic possibilities, where an undersea treasure of oil and gas that could rival some of the world's largest fields may be just the tip of the iceberg. The nation, too, seems to be slowly awakening to prospects that range from massive mineral and methane deposits to ice-free sea routes that could slash shipping times between the wealthiest nations.

Yet where developers and financiers envision a land of plenty, conservationists and Alaska Native hunters fear the demise of the bowhead whales, walrus, polar bears and other icons of the Far North. Some say climate change already threatens the animals and the Alaska Native villages that feed on them. Throw in a disaster, such as a chemical discharge or oil spill, and their survival becomes more tenuous.

Therein lays the challenge for the Arctic Imperative Summit: How do you develop the nation's last frontier -- even as you protect it?