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John Sturgeon has been in litigation with the National Park Service for a decade, including two trips to the Supreme Court, over whether he can use his hovercraft to travel on Alaska’s Nation River through the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. While Park Service regulations bar the use of hovercraft within the National Park system, Sturgeon argues that a special statute applicable only in Alaska excludes navigable rivers like the Nation from the Service’s regulations. The Supreme Court is reviewing the Ninth Circuit’s most recent decision in the case, which holds that the Park Service can use the implied reserved water rights doctrine of Winters v. U.S., to regulate activities on navigable rivers in and around National Parks, even though the federal government transferred ownership of the bed and bank of those rivers to the applicable state upon statehood. Because it is not limited to Alaska, The Ninth Circuit’s holding opens up a wide opportunity for the federal government to regulate private activity on state owned rivers running through or even near Wilderness Areas and National Parks and Forests across the country.
Tony Francois, Senior Attorney, Pacific Legal Foundation
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