Supreme Court’s rehearing of hovercraft hunter case could test Alaska’s sovereignty

The United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., pictured here on June 18th, 2018. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to rehear the case of an Alaska moose hunter whose use of a hovercraft in the Nation River (eastern Alaska) got him in trouble with the National Park Service.

John Sturgeon was on his annual moose hunt in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in 2007 when rangers told him Park Service rules prohibit hovercraft.

Who owns the rivers in federal preserves?

The case has become a test of the state of Alaska’s sovereignty. Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth says if Sturgeon loses, the federal government will be allowed to overrun Alaska’s right to make decisions about managing state waters “to promote the best interests of Alaskans.”

Sturgeon and the state claim the Park Service hovercraft ban doesn’t apply to the Nation River, even when it flows through the federal preserve, because the land under navigable waters belongs to the state.

The Supreme Court heard the case in 2016 and sent it back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, saying the court’s interpretation of the law was wrong. But the high court didn’t say what the correct interpretation is, so when the Ninth Circuit again ruled against Sturgeon, citing a different reason, it seemed inevitable the justices would hear the case again.

The Supreme Court agreed to take up the case sometime in next term, which runs from October until next June or July.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: From the Arctic to Atlantic, a photographer documents seal hunting in Canada, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Villages in western Finland concerned by jump in wolf population, Yle News

Norway: Grouse declines lead to strict hunting regulations in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia plans fenced parks to confine reindeer herding in Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Poachers suspected behind dwindling wolf numbers in Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Trump admin pushes for looser rules on predator hunting in Alaska, Alaska Public Media

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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