On March 22, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Sturgeon v. Frost. Sturgeon challenged a National Park Service (NPS) ban on the operation of hovercraft on the National River, part of which falls within the Yukon-Charley River National Preserve. The State of Alaska then intervened, challenging NPS’s authority to require its researchers to obtain a permit before engaging in studies of chum and sockeye salmon on the Alagnak River, part of which falls within the boundaries of the Katmai National Park and Preserve. Sturgeon and Alaska contended that the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) precludes NPS from regulating activities on state-owned lands and navigable waters that fall within the boundaries of National Park System units in Alaska. The district court ruled in favor of the federal government, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed that judgment as to Sturgeon but ordered that Alaska’s case be dismissed for lack of standing. The question before the Supreme Court was whether ANILCA prohibits the National Park Service from exercising regulatory control over state, native corporation, and private Alaska land physically located within the boundaries of the National Park System.
By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and remanded the case. Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court, rejecting the Ninth Circuit’s reading of ANILCA. Taken as whole, the Court indicated, ANILCA “contemplates the possibility that all the land within the boundaries of conservation system units in Alaska may be treated differently from federally managed preservation areas across the country, and that ‘non-public’ lands within the boundaries of those units may be treated differently from ‘public’ lands within the unit.”
To discuss the case, we have the Honorable Gale Norton, who served as the 48th U.S. Secretary of the Interior.