Yukon River Law Enforcement Conflict Dates Back to 1996

The conflict between the state and federal government over National Park Service law enforcement on the Yukon River dates back to a regulatory change in 1996. At a forum on jurisdiction over navigable waters, held in Fairbanks Monday, State Attorney General John Burns cited the policy change as the root of recent tensions between the state and the Park Service.

Burns said the Park Service’s expansion of authority in Alaska defies the U.S. and state constitutions, the federal submerged lands act, and the Alaska National Interest lands Conservation Act.  The most publicly visible conflict between the state and the Park Service has been in the Yukon Charley River’s Preserve, where National Park Rangers, doing boat inspections, handcuffed uncooperative locals on two occasions last year. Yukon Charley superintendent Greg Dudgeon said the authority to police boating, within parks, also stems from federal law.

The state is seeking legal clarification on the issue of Park Service authority on Alaska’s navigable waters. Monday’s roundtable discussion was organized by Senator Lisa Murkowski.   Murskowski says she’ll be pressing for an answer when she returns to Washington next month.

Murkowski says a provision inserted into an appropriations bill on the U.S. House side by Representative Don Young that would prevent the Park Service from doing law enforcement in the Yukon Charley Preserve is a band aid approach, adding that it’s tough to address the jurisdiction issue in a funding bill.  In the meantime, Dudgeon and state officials stressed that the situation is not all bad, and that there’s a lot of cooperation between state and federal agencies when it comes to law enforcement. Dudgeon says the Park Service has also modified its approach.

It was during last fall’s moose hunting season that Preserve rangers arrested Central resident Jim Wilde, who failed to cooperate during boat safety check. His case was tried in federal court this spring, and a judge’s decision is expected at any time. Wilde’s attorney Bill Satterberg, says if his client is found guilty, he plans an appeal based on jurisdiction over navigable waters.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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