On Remand by SCOTUS to 9th Circ., 9th Circ. Again Holds that a Federal Hovercraft Ban Applies in Alaska Despite the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act


On March 22, during the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Term, the Court issued a unanimous ruling that the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation of the scope of the National Park Service’s authority to ban the use of a hovercraft on Alaska’s Nation River within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve was erroneous in that it failed to recognize that the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) had the effect of carving out an exception for the use of hovercraft in these waters that was permitted by Alaska. The petitioner, John Sturgeon, was warned by Park Service Rangers that his use of the hovercraft within the boundaries of the Yukon-Charley preserve was prohibited, and that he was committing a crime by doing so. After reviewing ANILCA and the different laws and accommodations that were enacted to facilitate Alaska’s entry into the Union, the Court concluded that the law “repeatedly recognizes that Alaska is different,” and the judgment of the Ninth Circuit was vacated, and remanded for further proceedings. This was the only issue decided by the Court, whose decision is reported as Sturgeon v. Frost.

On remand, the case was re-argued before the Ninth Circuit on October 25, 2016, and its new ruling was made on October 2, 2107, the Ninth Circuit again ruled that the lower court was correct in granting the National Park Service’s motion for summary judgment. Judge Nguyen, writing for the Ninth Circuit , concluded that earlier binding precedents of the Ninth Circuit , in particular Alaska v. Babbitt, held that the United States had an implied reservation of water rights rendering Alaska’s Nation River public lands and they were therefore subject to the national hovercraft ban. Accordingly, Section 103c of ANILCA does not limit the National Park Service’s authority to ban the use of hovercraft in this national preserve.