Press Release Mar 26, 2019

Supreme Court Ruling Green-Lights Hovercraft Use in Alaska National Park

Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve was created in part to protect the rivers and lakes that run through this wilderness. Eliminating the hovercraft rule in Alaska is a loss for the ‘wild’ that makes these places special to people.

WASHINGTON – Today, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its ruling in Sturgeon v. Frost, a suit challenging the application of a National Park Service rule limiting hovercraft use in national parks in Alaska. The court found today that the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act limits application of the national rule within the boundaries of Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and allies, represented by the nonprofit law firm Trustees for Alaska, was involved in the case as a “friend of the court,” supporting the Park Service in its role as steward of the national parks’ natural resources

Previously, the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit both ruled in favor of the Park Service. The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the Park Service a second time in 2017, after the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court.

Statement by Jim Adams, Alaska Regional Director for National Parks Conservation Association

“After years of previous rulings in favor of the National Park Service, this decision is disappointing. Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve was created in part to protect the rivers and lakes that run through this wilderness. Eliminating the hovercraft rule in Alaska is a loss for the ‘wild’ that makes these places special to people.

That said, the concurring opinion in the decision makes it clear that the park service still has the authority to protect park lands from resource damage. We know everyone appreciates the beauty and value of our national parks and we will continue to work with the Park Service, the state, and the American public to ensure those resources are protected for future generations.”

Additional background information:

The lawsuit, originally brought against the Park Service in 2011 by John Sturgeon and supported by the state of Alaska, questions whether a provision of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) strips the Park Service of its power to regulate navigable waters within the parks. In 2007, Sturgeon was operating his hovercraft on the Nation River in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve when rangers informed him its use was illegal.

Alaskans can use a motorboat, snowmachine or airplane to access hunting opportunities in national preserves. Hovercraft have long been prohibited under Park Service regulations for the noise they produce and their ability to travel over gravel bars, onto wetlands and over tundra, causing significant damage to wildlife habitat.

# # #

About National Parks Conservation Association: For 100 years, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than 1.3 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org/100.