Supreme Court sides with Alaskan moose hunter in hovercraft case

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously ruled in favor of an Alaskan moose hunter who challenged a federal ban on using a hovercraft in national parks.

The court rejected a lower court ruling that the National Park Service (NPS) has the statutory authority to enforce its hovercraft regulations on navigable waters in Alaska that run through land owned by the state.

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The case, known as Sturgeon v. Frost, stems from a lawsuit filed by John Sturgeon against Alaska’s Regional Director of the National Park Service. Sturgeon, who hunts moose, brought the suit after he was told he could not ride his hovercraft on the six-mile stretch of the Nation River that runs within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. 

In delivering the opinion of the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said assuming the NPS has authority over non-public land in Alaska is an implausible reading of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Roberts said the statute draws a clear distinction between "public" and "non-public" lands within the boundaries of conservation systems in Alaska.

"Only those lands within the boundaries of any conservation system unit which are public lands ... shall be deemed to be included as a portion of such unit," he wrote, quoting the conservation act. "No lands 'conveyed to the state, to any Native Corporation, or to any private party shall be subject to regulations applicable solely to public lands within such units.'"