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Press Release

State Disputes Federal Authority to Restrict Access to Alaska Rivers

Federal Agency Would Impose Restrictions in Western Alaska

December 2, 2010

Anchorage, Alaska - In a letter sent today to the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Alaska strongly criticized the agency’s plan to limit access to two major rivers in the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge in Western Alaska.

“We remain vigilant to ensure that the federal government cannot chip away at Alaskans’ freedom to use our navigable waterways,” said Governor Sean Parnell.

Attorney General Dan Sullivan said,  “One of our top priorities is maintaining the balance of state and federal interests recognized by Congress in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and a key element of that balance is preserving state control of state-owned waterways.”

The state objects to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Public Use Management Plan for the Refuge, which intends to restrict unguided use of the two rivers popular with fishermen, the Kanektok and the Goodnews, to one group every other day.  A stated objective in the federal plan is to preserve a wilderness experience for those who are permitted to travel the rivers.  The state disagrees that the level of use warrants the restriction.

The state also disputes the service’s authority to impose these restrictions because the state owns the navigable rivers and the beaches and gravel bars which lie below the mean high-water mark. Given that people who float and fish on the river remain on state lands and waters, federal authorities do not have jurisdiction for regulation, according to the state.

The state’s communication today builds on action it took in September to halt a similar expansion of federal authority over state-owned rivers in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.  The state filed a petition with the National Park Service to change regulations that the federal agency contends give it enforcement powers over state-owned waterways.  The state also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a criminal case in which the Park Service is charging an Alaskan for violating Park Service regulations while on the Yukon River.  The state disputed the federal government’s jurisdiction to enforce those regulations.

For more information, contact Mike Sewright, (907) 269-5108.

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