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Moose Hunter Wins Hovercraft Ruling

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 01, 2019 3:42 PM

Hunters cheered the U.S. Supreme Court for ruling that a man could hunt for moose on his hovercraft.

John Sturgeon had fought for it since 2007, when National Park rangers detained him for using the craft on the Nation River in Alaska. He argued the state, not the U.S. park service, had jurisdiction over the river.

In Sturgeon v. Frost, the Supreme Court agreed and the moose grunted.

Battle Between Governments

Sturgeon wanted to hunt for moose among an estimated 175,000 of the creatures in the state. So he traveled by hovercraft along the rivers, until two national park rangers stopped him.

He sued, and it turned into a battle between governments. Alaska authorized Sturgeon to use hovercraft, but the National Park Service did not.

Citing the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, Sturgeon's lawyers argued that the law balanced the protection of public lands against the needs of Alaskans. That included needs "of particular importance to Alaskans."

The Supreme Court said running waters cannot be owned, and so the Nation River was not public land subject to the National Park Service.

Moose Meadows

It was the second time the Supreme Court considered the case. The first time, the justices vacated a decision against Sturgeon from Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On remand, the Ninth Circuit reached the same conclusion it had the first time: the federal government has authority to regulate hovercraft on the river. This time, the justices closed the door on the issue.

"John Sturgeon can once again drive his hovercraft up that river to Moose Meadows," Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court.

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