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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
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Alaskan Moose Hunter Loses Hovercraft Appeal

(CN) - Neither a hovercraft-owning moose hunter nor Alaska showed that federal regulators lack the authority over a river in the state, the 9th Circuit ruled Monday.

John Sturgeon sued the agency and others after two National Park Service (NPS) rangers kept him from using his hovercraft during a 2007 moose-hunting trip along the Nation River, which flows through the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.

Alaska intervened in the case to question a requirement that forced state scientists to obtain federal permits for a genetic study of chum and sockeye salmon on the Alagnak River, which flows through the Katmai National Park and Preserve.

The state and Sturgeon both argued that, under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), the agency has no authority over state-owned lands and rivers that are also "within the boundaries of National Park System units in Alaska."

Sturgeon said that the alleged federal overreach continued to prevent him from hunting in the preserve, and Alaska argued that the agency's permitting process drove up costs and stepped on its sovereignty.

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland in Anchorage ruled for the NPS, and a unanimous appellate panel affirmed on Monday.

Alaska lacks standing to challenge the agency's authority over the permitting process because the 2010 study is long over, the three-judge panel ruled, ordering the state's portion of the case dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

"The record ... amply supports Alaska's allegation of harm in the form of increased staff time and expense," but "offers no indication that related studies or efforts are pending or forthcoming," the ruling states.

Sturgeon also did not show that the agency has no power to ban hovercraft.

In addressing jurisdiction where a federally regulated river flows over state-owned lands within a given conservation unit, Alaska's state conservation law exempts nonfederal land from "regulations applicable solely to public lands within such units," not from federal regulation altogether, the panel ruled.

Because the ban on hovercraft "applies to all federal-owned lands and waters administered by NPS nationwide, as well as all navigable waters lying within national parks," it also applies to the Nation River and the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.

"Even assuming (without deciding) that the waters of and lands beneath the Nation River have been 'conveyed to the state', that subsection does not preclude the application and enforcement of the NPS regulation at issue," Judge Jacqueline Nguyen wrote for the panel. "Because of its general applicability, the regulation may be enforced on both public and nonpublic lands alike."

The National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA), which filed a brief in the case, lauded the ruling on Monday.

"We are pleased that the Ninth Circuit today rejected the State of Alaska's attempts to thwart the National Park Service's ability to enforce public safety and other regulations inside park boundaries," Jim Stratton, a deputy vice president for regional operations, said in a statement.

Trustees for Alaska, a nonprofit environmental group in Anchorage, represented the NPCA.

"Hopefully the state of Alaska won't continue wasting time and money challenging the Park Service's authority," Director Vicki Clark said in a statement.

Matthew Findley, with the Anchorage firm Ashburn & Mason, represented Sturgeon in the case.

He was not immediately available for comment on Monday.

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