Supreme Court decisions can yield fascinating insights into the lives of Americans and the things we value. On Tuesday, one of those decisions did just that with a lesson on hunting in Alaska and federal land use. The nation’s highest court ruled that John Sturgeon, an Alaskan hunter, could cruise through the backcountry of Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve on his hovercraft.
Or as Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the unanimous decision, “Sturgeon can again rev up his hovercraft in search of moose.” Ungulates beware.
After using a hovercraft to access hunting locations along the Nation River for decades according to the lawsuit, Sturgeon was told by park rangers he could no longer traverse the river that way through Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Hovercrafts on Alaskan waterways are all good, but the National Park Service—the agency that manages the preserve—has banned them. In national park in other states, the case would have likely been open and closed in the agency’s favor.
Alaska parks are managed somewhat differently than other parks in the system, however, owing the fact that they’re so big and that they contain communities, reservations, and other population centers inside their boundaries. There’s a federal law called the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) that was designed to help balance those communities’ needs and livelihoods with the National Park Service’s mission “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein.” Sturgeon sued the government, arguing that ANILCA took away the agency’s authority to regulate the navigable water and thus, he could cruise on his moose hunt unimpeded.
Two trips to the Supreme Court later and Sturgeon scored a victory as the court agreed with his interpretation of the law. Kagan’s decision lays out that the reasoning, arguing that the National Park Service doesn’t “own” the waters flowing in the Nation River and the laws in place “merely allows it to protect waters in the park from depletion or diversion.”
A hovercraft nor even an armada of them will cause that to happen and so Sturgeon and his hovercraft are on the loose for moose (sorry). I think it’s safe to say this is less of a worry to moose than the Instagramming hordes and climate change-fueled tick outbreaks.