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State Joins Lawsuit Defending Alaska Waters

December 7, 2011, Juneau, Alaska – Governor Sean Parnell has directed the Department of Law to join litigation recently filed by Alaska resident John Sturgeon. The suit seeks to limit federal regulations over state-owned navigable waters that run through national parks and preserves within Alaska.

For decades, Sturgeon hunted moose on the Yukon River and its tributary, the Nation River, both of which run through the Yukon-Charley Preserve. In 2007, Sturgeon was told by Park Service Rangers that if he did not remove his hovercraft from the waters within the boundaries of the Yukon-Charley Preserve, he would be charged with a crime. State law permits using hovercrafts on public domain lands and waters. Still, Sturgeon feared federal prosecution and has not operated his hovercraft in the Yukon-Charley Preserve since 2007.

“This case is about the state’s sovereign right and responsibility to govern its own lands and waters,” Governor Parnell said. “Federal overreach attains new heights when Alaskans can no longer legally access the waters that have for decades provided essential transportation routes in Alaska’s remote areas.”

Sturgeon and the state’s arguments are grounded in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which became federal law in 1980. ANILCA prohibits the Park Service from applying park regulations to state-owned waters that lie within park boundaries.

“The rights of Alaskans to use state-owned waters, in accordance with state law, must be defended,” said Attorney General John Burns. “ANILCA struck a careful balance between designating new federal conservation areas while also ensuring that Alaska and Alaskans could continue to responsibly develop Alaska’s resources and engage in traditional activities. The federal government must respect Alaska’s rights under ANILCA.”

Sturgeon, along with the state, has tried without success to work with the Park Service in an effort to get the federal regulation lifted. In addition to letters and meetings with Park Service officials, both the state and Sturgeon filed formal petitions with the Department of the Interior more than a year ago requesting that the Park Service repeal or amend its regulation. To date, the Park Service has failed to provide any substantive response to those petitions.

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