Alaska Delegation Rebukes Fish & Wildlife Service for Misleading Public on “Failed” ANWR Polar Bear Surveys

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young, (all R-Alaska) today issued a statement rebuking the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) for engaging in a bad faith permitting process with Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation (KIC), an Alaska Native Village Corporation seeking to conduct a seismic survey on land it owns within the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

“We are appalled to learn that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service blatantly misled Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation with regard to KIC’s application to conduct a seismic survey on their own lands,” said the Delegation. “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. It is imperative that the USFWS expeditiously correct this issue.”

Since August of 2020, KIC has been working on a proposal to conduct a seismic survey in 2021 on a portion of its land within ANWR. As part of its application, KIC was required to conduct three aerial surveys of polar bear dens by a deadline of February 13, 2021, to provide the USFWS information on the potential impact of the project on nearby wildlife. Before conducting those aerial den surveys, KIC applied for an “incidental harassment authorization” (IHA), also with the USFWS. According to KIC, despite repeated correspondence and assurances, the USFWS declined to approve the IHA permit, leaving KIC with no authorization or opportunity to conduct the required den surveys by the USFWS-imposed deadline. 

Then, on February 20, 2021, a spokeswoman for the Department of the Interior announced that KIC had “failed” to conduct the necessary aerial surveys of polar bear dens. As such, the department would not proceed to consideration of the proposed seismic survey proposal—an announcement celebrated by Lower 48 environmental organizations seeking to shut down any activity in ANWR.

Yesterday, President of the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation Matthew Rexford sent a letter to the USFWS Alaska Regional Director Greg Siekaniec criticizing the Service’s duplicitous actions and the resulting reputational harm in mischaracterizing the actions of KIC.