October 23, 2014

No more hovercrafting in Alaskan national parks

By Damien M. Schiff Senior Attorney

So ruled the Ninth Circuit earlier this month in Sturgeon v. Massica.  Although the case concerned just one National Park Service regulation, its holding applies to a substantial body of land-use regulation.

Sturgeon was cited for using a hovercraft within a conservation unit, in violation of National Park Service regulations.  Sturgeon argued, however, that under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Service has no authority to regulate activities occuring on state or privately owned enclaves within conservation units.  Because Sturgeon’s hovercrafting occurred on navigable waters, and because (contended Sturgeon) Alaska owns the beds of navigable waters within conservation units, Sturgeon argued that he was exempt from the Service’s regulation.

The Ninth Circuit disagreed.  Setting aside the question of whether activities occuring on navigable waters within conservation units can be said to occur on non-federal lands, the court concluded that Sturgeon should still lose:  ANILCA precludes application of only that subset of National Park Service regulation exclusively pertaining to Alaskan conservation units.  Hence, Service regulation that applies generally throughout the national park system still applies.  And, because the Service’s hovercraft regulation is such a generally applicable regulation, the court concluded that Sturgeon’s hovercrafting was subject to the Service’s authority.

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