Statement on New Arctic Policy Legislation

Contact: Marilyn Heiman, 206.321.1834

Washington, DC - 08/04/2009 - Conservation groups welcomed the Arctic policy legislation introduced into Congress by U.S. Senator Mark Begich which is aimed at helping Alaska and the U.S. better adapt to the economic and environmental challenges posed by rapid climate change.

The package includes bills that would improve Arctic oil spill research and recovery, better coordinate scientific research and develop a long-term Arctic Ocean research plan.   Senator Begich's legislation would also improve the safety of Arctic marine shipping and ratify two international treaties that affect the Arctic: the Law of the Sea Treaty and the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty.

"We applaud Senator Begich for his leadership on Arctic Policy," said Marilyn Heiman, U.S. Arctic Program director for the Pew Environment Group. "This type of attention is badly needed now that the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet and we are seeing species such as polar bears, walruses and ice seals increasingly under stress due to loss of sea ice. We believe that both a comprehensive science-based plan and United States' ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty are needed in advance of new industrial activity in the Arctic."

The rapid loss of sea ice has prompted concerns from scientists, conservationists and local Arctic communities that industrial activities such as large-scale commercial fishing, shipping or oil and gas development could overwhelm the fragile Arctic ecosystems.

"We commend Senator Begich for his leadership on these important Arctic issues," said Jim Ayers, vice-president of Oceana.  "In addition, we urge Congress to require a science-based approach to determine if industrial activities should occur in the Arctic and, if so, when, where, and how."

The Arctic waters support some of the last remaining pristine marine ecosystems on the planet and are home for 23 species of marine mammals, including polar bears, bowhead whales and walruses, dozens of species of seabirds and 100 fish species. Tens of thousands of indigenous peoples rely on this natural wealth for food, clothing and their cultural survival.

"We commend Senator Begich for this suite of Arctic bills," said Stan Senner, executive director of Audubon Alaska. "Obviously, he appreciates that the Arctic is unique and important, and he understands the need for a deliberate, science-based approach to develop its resources. We look forward to working with him to highlight and address Arctic issues."

Janis Searles Jones, vice-president of the Ocean Conservancy, also said the legislative package is a step in the right direction. "The Arctic is under tremendous stress from climate change and the loss of seasonal sea ice and we greatly appreciate Senator Begich's leadership," Searles Jones said. "The legislation that Senator Begich introduced today highlights the need to take a careful and precautionary approach to activities in the region."

Audubon Alaska, Oceana, Ocean Conservancy and the Arctic Program of the Pew Environment Group are partnered with scientists, local Arctic communities, and fishermen to call for a science-based, precautionary approach before any industrial activities are allowed to expand in the Arctic Ocean.

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