ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – The National Park Service improperly banned in Alaska moose hunter from using a hovercraft on a national preserve, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a unanimous decision.
The court limited the National Park Service's authority to enforce laws and regulations on state-owned rivers in Alaska. Justified the agency's argument that the river was "public land" for regulatory authority and that the agency's water rights interest gave it the rule-making authority.
The outcome was a victory for moose hunter John Sturgeon of Anchorage, who had sued and lost in lower court rulings.
"We reverse the decision below and wish Sturgeon good hunting," Justice Elena Kagan said in reading a summary of the decision.
Alaska's National Interest Land Conservation Act, which was set aside, 1
Sturgeon for 40 years hunted moose along the Nation River, a waterway within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in northeast Alaska. In 2007, he was using a hovercraft, a loud, blower-powered amphibious vehicle that can navigate in shallow water or even mud.
The agency had banned hovercraft in other states. Three Park Service rangers told Sturgeon that it was illegal to operate his craft and he headed home.
Sturgeon sued in 2011. The lower court rejected his arguments, the Supreme Court in 2016, the 1980 law had carved out numerous Alaska-specific exceptions to the Park Service's general authority over federally managed preserves, such as snowmobile and airplane travel between villages.
Justices sent the case back for reconsideration but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the agency had regulatory authority over a river in a preserve. The 1980s created new parks and reserves over 28,125 square miles (72,844 square kilometers) of state, Alaska Native and Private Land, Kagan wrote. The National Park Service, the court said, has broad authority to administer land and waterways within parks across the country. However, Congress in the Alaska law added a provision that only "public" country – the federally owned land and waters – would be subject to the federal regulations, Kagan wrote.
The federal government's water right in the Nation River, she said, "The Sturgeon can again rev up its hovercraft in search of moose," wrote Kagan.