The Supreme Court building is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (Carolyn Kaster | Associated Press)

The Supreme Court building is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (Carolyn Kaster | Associated Press)

Alaska moose hunter can ‘rev up’ his hovercraft, U.S. Supreme Court rules

The court rules 9-0 in favor of John Sturgeon

ANCHORAGE — The National Park Service improperly banned an Alaska moose hunter from using a hovercraft on a river through 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. Justices rejected the agency’s argument that the river was “public land” for regulatory authority and that the agency’s water rights interest gave it 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. Sturgeon could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Justices cited the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that in 1980 set aside 162,500 square miles of land for preservation purposes. The law created 10 new national parks, preserves and monuments but said agency rules would not apply on state or private land within the conservation units that are not federally owned.

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 it was illegal to operate his hovercraft and he headed home.

Sturgeon sued in 2011. After lower courts rejected his arguments, the Supreme Court in 2016 said 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 Supreme Court justices rejected that conclusion.

The 1980 law creating new parks and reserves surrounded more than 28,125 square miles of state, Alaska Native and private land, Kagan wrote. The National Park Service, the court said, has broad authority to administer lands and waterways within parks across the country. However, Congress in the Alaska law added a provision that only “public” land — the federally owned land and waters — would be subject to the federal regulations, Kagan wrote.

The federal government’s reserved water right in the Nation River, she said, allows the National Park Service to protect it from depletion or diversion but not to target hovercraft.

“Sturgeon can again rev up his hovercraft in search of moose,” Kagan wrote.


• This is an Associated Press report by Dan Joling.


More in News

Thin ice sheets form near the Mendenhall Glacier in early November. (Courtesy Photo / Kenneth Gill, gillfoto)
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Reader-submitted photos of Southeast Alaska.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A cuddle-puddle of kittens nestles at Juneau Animal Rescue, which recently received a large legacy gift from a Juneau resident. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Juneau resident leaves one last gift for local nonprofits

The gift will help support organizations who made possible what she loved doing in life.

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
COVID at a Glance for Wednesday, Nov. 24

Numbers come from reports from the City and Borough of Juneau Emergency… Continue reading

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
COVID at a Glance for Monday, Nov. 22

Numbers come from reports from the City and Borough of Juneau Emergency… Continue reading

1
Alaska man pleads not guilty to threatening 2 US senators

If convicted, he could face a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read