Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - ANWR

This undated photo shows the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. President Trump is rushing to auction drilling rights in the Refuge before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated. (US Fish and Wildlife Service/Getty Images/TNS)

Officials with the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mischaracterized them and wrongly placed blame for a failure to conduct due diligence in time to perform oil exploration work in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The corporation says it was the fish and wildlife service that failed to act by neglecting to grant its request for permission to conduct aerial polar bear surveys, and Alaska’s Congressional Delegation is backing them up saying the federal agency needs to make things right.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said Friday that he suspects department employees are trying to undermine development in ANWR, which is viewed by environmental groups as a threat to wildlife, Native cultures and the global climate.

The offices of Sullivan, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, put out a joint statement on behalf of the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation.

“We are appalled to learn that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service blatantly misled Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation with regard to KIC’s application to conduct a seismic survey on their own lands,” read the statement. “For the USFWS to then cast blame on KIC for failing to perform an activity that they were not given explicit authorization to complete is a clear indication that the USFWS had no intention of allowing this process to continue.”

The statement comes a day after the Native corporation spoke out. Its application to conduct seismic activity was reportedly deemed moot after a deadline for the polar bear survey was missed.

“They said the seismic activity was predicated on completion of the den detection surveys, but then they wouldn’t approve the aerial den detection work to begin,” Nathan Gordon, senior chairman of the corporation, said in a prepared statement. “It was never authorized to commence in the first place, and they just kicked the can down to the road. It’s convenient for them, and a lose-lose situation for our community. It’s a reality our people are unfortunately accustomed to when it comes to dealing with the federal government.”

Before conducting work known as a seismic survey, the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation was required to look for polar bear dens. The aerial surveys of polar bear dens were required by Feb. 13 to provide information on the possible impact to wildlife of the seismic activity.

The Native corporation reportedly applied for an “incidental harassment authorization,” and despite repeated communication with the fish and wildlife service, they did not receive authorization.

A statement from the corporation said the fish and wildlife service is misplacing the blame for its own “negligence, irresponsibility and failure to do its job” and is avoiding responsibility.

Murkowski, Sullivan, and Young rebuked the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and called on the agency to “expeditiously correct this issue.”

The Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation had been working on a proposal to conduct a seismic survey on a portion of its land in ANWR since last August.

Attempts to get a response from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, were unsuccessful on Friday.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMborough.