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Edward Itta chosen for US Arctic Research Commission

The White House announced on Tuesday that it intends to appoint prominent Iñupiat leader and former North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta to the U.S. Arctic Research Commission.

The seven-member commission functions as the federal government's central Arctic policy and research body, charged with easing cooperation among federal, state and local governments as well as other nations with respect to basic and applied Arctic research. Council members serve four-year terms. Fran Ulmer, the former Alaska lieutenant governor and former University of Alaska Anchorage chancellor, serves as the chairperson.

Itta is being nominated to fill a seat previously held by Helvi Sandvik, president of NANA Development Corp., according to an announcement from Sen. Mark Begich's office.

Itta is a member of the Barrow Whaling Captains Association, where he served as president from 1989 to 1990. He previously served as president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska, vice chairman of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. Over the past 20 years, he has served on numerous international, regional and community boards and advisory groups.

Begich recommended Itta to the White House.

"Edward Itta has been an excellent leader and voice for Native communities, always advocating for economic development while protecting subsistence," said Begich. "His impressive resume of service to the North Slope Borough and his work with the whaling community will allow him to offer great insight. As the Arctic grows as a focus of resource development and research activity, Mr. Itta will be a critical voice for residents of the Arctic."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski also praised Itta's selection, saying it is an "extremely intelligent choice" because of his long-time consideration of Arctic policy and its relation to Native culture, expertise that she believes has even greater importance today as the U.S. considers ways to involve itself in the increasingly active Arctic region.

In a release following the announcement of Itta's selection, Murkowski said, "As mayor of the North Slope Borough, Edward demonstrated his ability to bring people together from all sectors of government, business and science to reap benefits -- and I know he will continue to do so on a national scale. Selecting Mayor Itta is an excellent choice for a prominent position that grows more important with every passing month."

The White House's nomination of Itta may be of particular interest to Alaskans, but another appointment made at the same time should also intrigue them as evidence mounts that the Arctic has entered a period of significant, human-driven environmental change. The Obama Administration also announced its intention to appoint Dr. James McCarthy to the commission. McCarthy, a Harvard University professor, was a co-chair of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In bestowing the award that year, the Nobel Committee said the IPCC was awarded the prize, jointly along with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

Contact Scott Woodham at swoodham(at)alaskadispatch.com