Supreme Court agrees to hear Alaska Hovercraft case again

John Sturgeon discusses his U.S. Supreme Court case with the Alaska Senate Resources Committee, Feb. 17, 2016. Sturgeon is the plaintiff in in Sturgeon v. Frost, a case involving a dispute over federal control over navigable waters. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to rehear the case of an Alaska moose hunter whose use of a hovercraft in the Nation River got him in trouble with the National Park Service.

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John Sturgeon was on his annual moose hunt in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in 2007 when rangers told him Park Service rules prohibit hovercraft.

The case has become a test of the state of Alaska’s sovereignty. Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth says if Sturgeon loses, the federal government will be allowed to overrun Alaska’s right to make decisions about managing state waters “to promote the best interests of Alaskans.”

Sturgeon and the state claim the Park Service hovercraft ban doesn’t apply to the Nation River, even when it flows through the federal preserve, because the land under navigable waters belongs to the state.

The Supreme Court heard the case in 2016 and sent it back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, saying the court’s interpretation of the law was wrong. But the high court didn’t say what the correct interpretation is, so when the Ninth Circuit again ruled against Sturgeon, citing a different reason, it seemed inevitable the justices would hear the case again.

The Supreme Court agreed to take up the case sometime in next term, which runs from October until next June or July.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz