ANCHORAGE (CN) – An Alaskan hunter sued the National Park Service for threatening to criminally prosecute him if he keeps hunting moose from his hovercraft in a federal preserve.
John Sturgeon says he’s held a resident hunting license for 40 years and has hunted moose every year since 1971.
He says he’s been “using his small personal hovercraft to hunt moose both within the boundaries of the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve (the ‘Yukon Charley’) and upriver from the park boundaries since 1990.”
But 4 years ago, Sturgeon says, federal agents threw him out of a moose meadow in the Yukon Charley, and told him U.S. Park Service regulations prohibit him from hunting moose from a hovercraft.
He says they’re wrong.
Hovercraft fly over water on a cushion of air, and are licensed like boats.
Sturgeon claims state law governs his moose hunting: that when Congress enacted the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) in 1980, “it made clear in the text of the statute that for lands placed within NPS boundaries created or expanded by ANILCA, NPS regulations solely applicable to public lands within federal conservation system units would not apply to lands that belonged to the State of Alaska.”
Sturgeon says he licensed his hovercraft with the state and has used it for 20 years to hunt in areas known as “moose meadows,” “black sands,” and the “Sturgeon fork.”
“Plaintiff has been using his small, personal hovercraft to hunt moose, both within the boundaries of the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve and upriver from the park boundaries since 1990. The Yukon and Nation Rivers are navigable waterways, and as such, belong to the State of Alaska,” he says in his federal complaint.
But he says the defendants have threatened him with criminal prosecution and refused to negotiate.
“For over fifteen years after ANILCA was enacted, the NPS abided by this congressional restriction on its authority, and its regulations did not purport to authorize the NPS to enforce its regulations on state lands, including navigable waters, within NPS conservation system unit boundaries created or expanded by ANILCA,” Sturgeon says.
ANILCA placed 104.3 million acres under management of the National Park Service. Included was east-central Alaska, west of the village of Eagle, about 100 miles of the Yukon River, the lower 6 miles of the Nation River and “various public lands,” according to Sturgeon’s complaint.
“Because the State of Alaska owns the submerged lands underneath the Yukon and Nation Rivers, these submerged lands are specifically excepted from ANILCA’s definition of ‘public lands,'” the complaint states.
Sturgeon says three NPS agent threw him out of the “moose meadows” in 2007. After he called his lawyer by cell phone and met with an NPS agent, he says, he was told he would be criminally cited if he ever operated his hovercraft again within the Yukon-Charley.
Sturgeon says he hasn’t used it there since, but that the defendants are exceeding their authority. He says he’s petitioned Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and complained to the Chief Ranger, but they refuse to discuss the issue.
Sturgeon seeks declaratory judgment that the defendants are violating ANILCA and an order restraining them from enforcing NPS regulations against his hovercraft hunting.
Defendants include the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service, Salazar, the state director of the National Park Service, the superintendent of the Yukon-Charley National Preserve, and an NPS special agent.
Sturgeon’s lead counsel is Matthew Findley with Ashburn & Mason.