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U.S. Supreme Court agrees to reconsider case of Alaska moose hunter and his hovercraft

John Sturgeon, in front of the Supreme Court, is part of a case involving a hovercraft and moose hunting,, on January, 17, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Bill O’Leary / The Washington Post)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to reconsider a case involving the federal government's ability to ban hovercraft  in national parks.

Alaska moose hunter John Sturgeon, 72, has parked his hovercraft in his Anchorage yard since he was ordered off the Nation River in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in 2007.

Sturgeon sued the National Park Service in 2011.

Driving through Montana Monday, Sturgeon said by phone that he was "very excited" to hear about the Supreme Court's decision to consider his case a second time.

"I'm still pinching myself," he said.

The Supreme Court in 2016 rejected a lower court's reasoning for barring Sturgeon's hovercraft use and sent the case back for reconsideration.

A three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in October 2017 that the National Park Service has authority over the river within the preserve.

The case centers on whether the state, which allows hovercraft on waterways, has authority over the Nation River or whether the National Park Service oversees that particular stretch.

The preserve was set aside in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The park service bans hovercraft over concerns about noise and potential damage to wetlands and tundra.

The National Parks Conservation Association, represented by Trustees for Alaska, participated in the lawsuit in support of the Park Service.

The preserve was created partly to protect the rivers and lakes "that run through this unspoiled wilderness," the group's Alaska regional director said in a statement.

If the park service loses its authority to protect rivers and lakes within the boundaries of Alaska's parks, the waterways of many Alaska parks will "lose part of the 'wild' that makes them special," Adams said. "It is time for the Supreme Court to lay to rest this tired power grab."

The state supports Sturgeon's bid to determine state authority over navigable waters within Alaska conservation units, according to a statement issued Monday.

"We are very excited that the court has once again recognized the importance of this case to Alaska and the nation," Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said.

The state plans to file an amicus brief supporting Sturgeon and request that it be allowed to present argument before the court.

Sturgeon estimated last year that the case had cost $700,000 so far. He said Monday he expects to spend another $250,000 to $300,000 to bring the case before the Supreme Court.

He expects the justices to hear the case in early November, with an opinion expected within three or four months.

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