H. Sterling Burnett ["Develop the Refuge," letters, Sept. 24] said that the Inupiat favor development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, 63 of 98 registered voters in the Inupiat community of Kaktovik, adjacent to the refuge, oppose such development, and the Inupiat of Point Hope have a resolution opposing development.
The Gwich'in do have a say regarding public lands, particularly if the action is going to affect the Porcupine River caribou herd, upon which their culture is based. The Gwich'in still have a viable subsistence culture, and 60 to 70 percent of their food comes from the land.
The National Academy of Sciences has said that the herd would be harmed by development at the refuge. The Gwich'in have a responsibility to protect the "Sacred Place Where Life Begins" and the herd that has provided for them from time immemorial.
The writer is executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, which is required by the leaders of the Gwich'in Nation to protect the calving and nursery grounds of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
H. Sterling Burnett suggested that we should develop the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil. His argument hinged on two points: The risks of development to caribou are trivial, and most locals favor development.
As a biologist and a former resident of Alaska, I believe the refuge was set aside for all Americans, including coming generations. It is the only large expanse of high Arctic habitat still protected for caribou, polar bears, migratory waterfowl, musk ox and people. If our land-use commitment means anything, we should not take risks with such a jewel.
Respectable biologists may disagree about the risk of oil development to caribou, but none could say development is risk-free. It is shameful to think that the risks may mean less because Native Americans in Canada stand to lose the most. If that attitude were applied in reverse, we might as well say goodbye to many of our songbirds that overwinter in vulnerable tropical habitats outside our borders.
Alaska obtains 85 percent of its revenue from oil development, and this dependency is even stronger in the small Inupiat villages along the oil-rich Arctic coastline. Of course a majority of locals favor development. But if we base energy policy on local self-interest and pork, our natural heirlooms always will be at risk.