Compass: NPR-A plan is good for development, wildlife and subsistence culture

As the president of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope (ICAS), the regional tribe for eight villages in the North Slope Borough, it is my duty to stand up for the Inupiat people and our way of life. It is what I was elected to do. Our tribe, along with 29 other tribes, village corporations, city governments, and regional native nonprofits have all passed resolutions advocating for conservation of the important wildlife habitat and subsistence zones in the NPR-A.

The Western Arctic Caribou Herd is the largest herd in Alaska and it calves right in the Utukok Uplands of the NPRA. The herd feeds as many as 40 villages in the region - all the way down to the Bering Sea. Teshekpuk Lake, Peard Bay, and Kasegaluk Lagoon are important waterfowl nesting and subsistence areas. Our people have hunted here for thousands of years. Our food security comes from these places.

Recently, the State of Alaska and some corporate interests have been criticizing the Obama administration's management of oil and gas resources in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). It's no secret that the reserve has oil and gas deposits. I should know. As a geologist for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, I surveyed the entire North Slope for oil, gas, and minerals in the 1970's. If anyone knows where the oil is on the North Slope, it's me.

I also know the value of our subsistence economy. You can't put a price on a way of life. Period. In some communities around here, 80 percent of people's diets come from subsistence. Given the choice, some elders have said they would rather die than give up their subsistence foods. Without our subsistence foods, we are nothing.

I have met with the Obama administration a number of times as they've been developing the Integrated Activity Plan (IAP) for the NPR-A. I believe that their preferred alternative is in the best interest of people of the North Slope and Alaska. This plan does not lock any areas up as wilderness as some corporate leaders may want you to believe. They've instead created a balanced plan that allows oil and gas leasing in areas known to have great potential, but also protects vital habitat for our food security. It's a win-win.

At 22 million acres, the National Petroleum Reserve is a huge piece of public land. Under the Obama Administration's preferred alternative, over half of the reserve would be open for oil and gas development. That's over 11 million acres open for business. That's the size of Denmark. Yet, the administration has also taken steps to protect the key wildlife habitat that we need to sustain our people for generations to come.

George Edwardson is president of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope (ICAS) tribal government, a regional tribe representing over 9,000 tribal members from eight villages on the North Slope. He is a geologist by training and has traveled extensively surveying lands across the Arctic, as well as worked in Prudhoe Bay.