Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, October 7, 2014


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Ninth Circuit Upholds U.S. Authority Over Alaskan River


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


The National Park Service acted within its statutory authority when it banned hovercraft from the Nation River in Alaska, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

 The panel affirmed a lower court ruling rejecting a suit by a moose hunter who claimed the NPS had no authority to regulate recreational activity on state-owned lands and navigable waters. The court said the service has such authority to the extent the lands and waters fall within units of the park system.

 John Sturgeon sued the agency and others two park 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. He noted that he had been using the craft for annual hunting trips since 1990, and had been hunting on the river since 1971.

After extensive administrative efforts to have the hovercraft ban amended or repealed, he filed suit, claiming that, as applied to a private individual making recreational use of state-owned lands and waters, the regulation violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, known as ANILCA.

The state 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.

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 Judge Jacqueline Nguyen, writing for the appellate panel, said the district judge was correct.

Nguyen said the case is easily resolved under ANILCA §103(c).

The statute, she noted, allows the federal government—to regulate nonfederal lands within a “conservation system unit” of the NPS, except that state, Native, and privately owned land cannot be subjected to “regulations applicable solely to public lands within such units.”

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,” the judge wrote, 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,” the judge added. “Because of its general applicability, the regulation may be enforced on both public and nonpublic lands alike.”

The judge also concluded that Alaska lacks standing to challenge the agency’s authority over the permitting process because the 2010 study is long over.

“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 judge wrote.

Senior Judges Jerome Farris and Dorothy W. Nelson concurred in the opinion

The National Parks and Conservation Association, which filed an amicus brief in the case, lauded the ruling.

“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 yesterday.

 The case is Sturgeon v. Masica, 13-36165.


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