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Community Perspective

Support the Park Service as it implements Sturgeon ruling

Surprise! The National Park Service is proposing to release its steely grip on state navigable waters and inholdings in Alaska’s National Park Service units. They will get thousands of screams in opposition.

Alaskans should support the Park Service’s about-face and intention to follow the law as laid out in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Alaskans should write the Park Service (see below). Alaskans should write our congressional delegation and Governor Dunleavy, too, immediately — before the end of June.

Remember John Sturgeon? The guy who had the guts to take on the Park Service in court and beat them twice in the U.S. Supreme Court? He had to beat them the second time because the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals botched its assigned cleanup job after his first win. The Park Service did not think it had to change its over-reaching operation after the 9th Circuit hatchet job the first time around.

Sturgeon disagreed, decided to appeal again to the U.S. Supreme Court and was accepted. In March 2019, the high court made it clear that Sturgeon was right. The Park Service had to change its rules.

To comply with the Supreme Court’s decision, the Park Service proposes to exclude Alaska from its general nationwide regulations over lands and waters “as they apply to submerged lands, tide lands, and lowlands” and in Alaska to define the boundaries of the Park Service units to include only “federally owned lands.” This decision precludes applying Park Service regulations to private and state inholdings, which includes state navigable waters such as the Nation River, where the case started.

John Sturgeon’s lawsuit, a 13-year odyssey seeking justice, served Alaska and Alaskans well. Privately donated funds paid the $1.5 million legal bill.

“We the people” need to support the Park Service’s proposed regulatory changes. You can do so by going to and search for regulations identifier number RIN 1024-AE63. Or mail/deliver comments, including the name “ National Park Service” or “NPS” and RIN 1024-AE63, to National Park Service, Regional Director, Alaska Regional Office, 240 West 5th Ave., Anchorage, AK 99501. The comment period ends June 29, 2020.

Is this the happy ending? Only as it applies to the Park Service. Other federal conservation units established under ANILCA such as refuges, recreational areas, etc. should take similar action to that of the Park Service because they appear to be legally in the same boat, even though they were not named in the Sturgeon decision by the Supreme Court. They will probably try to dodge the bullet, perhaps aided by the outrageous decision of retired but retreaded federal District Court Judge H. Russel Holland, who issued his preposterous opinion that the Sturgeon case decision only applies to the Nation River.

Even the Park Service could not swallow this latest dose of “Hollandaise” legal sauce.

Dick Bishop lives in Fairbanks.


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