Trial opens for man charged in dispute on the Yukon River

INSPECTION: Case sparked a debate over government authority.

April 5, 2011 

Jim Wilde, 70, sits handcuffed Sept. 16, 2010, on the bank of the Yukon River after National Park Service rangers arrested him on four misdemeanor charges.

PHOTO BY FRED SCHENK

FAIRBANKS -- A trial began Tuesday for a man arrested by National Park Service rangers in a dispute on the Yukon River that got the attention of the governor and Alaska's congressional delegation over concerns that rangers overstepped their authority.

Jim Wilde, 70, was charged with disorderly conduct after rangers said he failed to cooperate with a safety inspection of his boat last September on the river between Circle and Eagle. Wilde's trial is being held in federal court in Fairbanks.

The Central man told rangers he believed it was unsafe for them to board his boat in the river and instead headed to shore, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The case prompted a dispute about whether the state or federal government has authority over rivers in federal parkland.

Gov. Sean Parnell, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Rep. Don Young have all said the Park Service did not have the authority to stop Wilde's boat for a safety inspection in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. The state joined Wilde's attorney Bill Satterberg in asking Magistrate Judge Scott Oravec in January to dismiss charges. They argued that the river bottom under the spot where Wilde was arrested is state land.

Oravec rejected that argument, allowing the trial to proceed.

Court documents say Wilde threatened, resisted, intimidated and intentionally interfered with a park ranger during an official duty; fled when ordered to halt; and recklessly created "a risk of public nuisance and violence by engaging in threatening and violent behavior in the form of maneuvering his boat toward the path of a law enforcement vessel, and in other ways."

He also was cited for having an unregistered boat.

Satterberg has said Wilde refused to let rangers board his boat for safety reasons and told them he would pull over to the riverbank. He said the rangers pointed a shotgun at him and rolled him in the mud before putting him in handcuffs. Wilde spent four days in jail.

The state and Satterberg based their jurisdictional argument on language in the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. But the Park Service said it has jurisdiction on state waterways running through federal lands, including the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, based on amendments made to federal regulations in 1996.

Parnell has asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to amend federal regulations that the Park Service says gives the agency jurisdiction on state waterways.

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