Alaska is different—it has moose hunters on hovercrafts, many large national parks, and certain unique federal laws. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that National Park Service laws and regulations of general applicability do not apply to inholdings within Alaska’s national parks. Sturgeon v. Frost, 587 U.S. ___ (2019).
While on a moose hunting trip twelve years ago, John Sturgeon was repairing his hovercraft on a section of the Nation River within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve (a unit of the National Park System) when park rangers ordered him to stop using the hovercraft in the preserve. Mr. Sturgeon left that day without the benefit of his hovercraft and without a moose. He later sued, arguing that the Park Service ban on hovercrafts did not apply to the Nation River, a navigable river the bed of which is owned by the State of Alaska.
This case arose under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (ANILCA). When the federal government designated national park lands in ANILCA, it swept tracts of nonfederal lands (state, Alaska Native corporation, and private inholdings) within the park boundaries. ANILCA provides that no state, Native, or private inholdings “shall be subject to the regulations applicable solely to public lands within [conservation system] units.” 16 U.S.C. § 3103(c). Nonetheless, the federal government claimed that the Park Service could regulate the inholdings like park lands.
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