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Hovercraft-Using Hunter Headed to the Supremes

WASHINGTON (CN) - A hovercraft-owning moose hunter persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to determine proper authority over an Alaska river.

John Sturgeon sued the agency and others after two National Park Service 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, 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 Park Service, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed last year.

In addition to finding that completion of the 2010 study hurts Alaska's standing, the court said Sturgeon has no recourse over an agency ban against hovercraft.

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, the ruling said.

"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."

Per its custom, the U.S. Supreme Court did not issue any comment in granting Sturgeon a writ of certiorari Thursday.

He is represented by Matthew Findley, with the Anchorage firm Ashburn & Mason.

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