Enforcement in Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve a Sore Issue

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

National Park Service boat safety checks conducted in the Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve between Eagle and Circle in recent weeks have resulted in conflicts. One man has been charged with disorderly conduct and other offenses, while charges are possible in a second case.  Yukon Charley Preserve Superintendent Greg Dudgeon says the agency conducts river patrols during hunting season to enforce laws and be proactive.

Dudgeon says that includes proper licenses and boat registrations. Yukon River resident Wayne Hall says in one of the recent incidents, longtime local Tim Henry was handcuffed by rangers after refusing to cooperate about an un-registered boat.  Hall, who lives off the grid without a phone, says relations between locals and the Park Service are the worst he’s experienced in 18 years on the river. John Sturgeon, in Anchorage who’s hunted in the Yukon Charley area for 40 years, says law enforcement has always been a sore issue.

Sturgeon says he’d like to pursue a court case challenging the Park service jurisdiction, but has deferred to the state, which is pursuing administrative appeals. The Yukon is one of many navigable waterways in Alaska that the state was granted management over when it was admitted to the Union, but is still working to assert that right. Park Service spokesman John Quinley says the agency has jurisdiction to conduct law enforcement.

Quinley says river patrols are also on the lookout for hunting and fishing violations. The Yukon Charley Preserve’s Dudgeon says the agency has made about 60 contacts with river travelers in the last few weeks, most of them without any trouble, but he acknowledges resentment of the Park Service.

Dudgeon says that has to be balanced with the Park Service’s mandates to protect resources and manage the preserve for all people. The regulations and enforcement that came with creation of the Yukon Charley Preserve effectively forced out people who moved to the region to live off the land in the 1960’s and 70’s.  Eagle resident Ann Millard counts only four families who still live remotely on the river, within the preserve. She says the latest law enforcement cases have revived hard feelings.

Millard says some locals still blame the Park Service for the death of famed river dweller Dick Cook.  Cook died when his boat capsized while travelling to Eagle for a meeting with the Park Service in 2001.  Fairbanks writer Dan O’Neill documented the exodus of river residents in his 2007 book:  “A Land Gone Lonesome.”

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