National Park Service seeks to close another Alaska river - Must Read Alaska
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Monday, October 14, 2019
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National Park Service seeks to close another Alaska river

TEMPORARY CLOSURE OF BROOKS RIVER VIOLATES STURGEON RULING?

The National Park Service is proposing to close a section of the Brooks River in Katmai National Park and Preserve to motorboats.

The federal agency that manages Katmai National Park and Preserve says that motorboat use upriver of a new bridge the Park Service has constructed would disturb brown bears who concentrate at Brooks Falls to feed on salmon.

The motorboats would interfere with the visitor experience at Katmai, the Park Service says. And motorboats would endanger “cultural resources along the river by exposing them to erosive boat wakes.”

At first blush, it seems reasonable to keep visitors from traveling to Brooks Falls by skiff because tourists fly into the area to view bears, not skiffs.

But the Supreme Court ruled a month ago that the Park Service has no jurisdiction over navigable waters inside national preserves, and that ruling changes everything. If a motorboat can navigate the water, then it’s state water.

In the Sturgeon vs. Frost, National Park Service case, Alaska hunter John Sturgeon was taking his boat up the Nation River in the Yukon-Charley National Preserve when Park Service officers ordered him out. That case went to the Supreme Court, which agreed that the navigable rivers in Alaska are under the jurisdiction of the State of Alaska. The decision was unanimous: Alaska’s navigable waters are different because of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA.

Evidently the Park Service hasn’t gotten the Supreme Court memo.

The area in question less than a month after the Supreme Court decision is a popular tourist destination and is part of a chain of lakes and waterways upstream from Naknek.

In many parts in that region, bears feed in the rivers and streams, and they are unperturbed by boats that come and go. They don’t run, they don’t even pay attention to boats. They are busy, oblivious fisher bears.

In this particular river, no boats are ever present. But with the new bridge, which replaces an old floating bridge, it raises the possibility that people may someday choose to bring in a hovercraft or outboard.

The old floating bridge, shown here, has been replaced with a bridge that motorboats can travel under.

“Katmai’s landscape contains vast multi–lake watersheds with hundreds of miles of wild, untamed rivers and streams. It’s an outdoor laboratory for studying the effects of volcanism, climate change, and other large-scale landscape processes. This is also place with a 9,000 year record of human adaptation to environmental and ecological change,” the Park Service has posted on the website dedicated to this park. Things to do, the Park Service says, include bear watching, sport fishing, boating, backcountry hiking and camping in an area that is largely wilderness, with less than six miles of designated and maintained hiking trails.

So why the pre-emptive closure of a half-mile of river by the National Park Service? It could be the camel’s nose under the tent, a case of attempting to re-establish some of the jurisdiction the Park Service just lost in the Supreme Court. A precedent-setter, if you will.

A public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at 6 pm at the National Park Service headquarters in King Salmon to discuss taking away Alaskans’ rights to use the river upstream of the new bridge from June 1 through Oct. 1.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • So, all the locals who live on naknek lake are gonna swarm in and ruin the bear viewing?

  • Valid points, but there also needs to be a touch of common sense involved. I run numerous rivers myself so I am sensitive to river closures and restrictions, but I’ve been there and that one is not an appropriate river to navigate. It is one of the real treasures of Alaska, and it should remain as is to preserve the unique nature of it. It will be a shame if this river becomes a pawn in the battle over jurisdiction.

  • How about having the State I’d Alaska and Park Service meeting and conferring on a joint agreement to manage the river and resources in a thoughtful way instead turning this into a jurisdictional snit?

    • This is no jurisdictional snit, the highest court in the land just ruled that the NPS has no (as in zero) jurisdiction on state waterways. If the NPS had gone to the state and requested a meeting that would make sense. Instead the NPS is ignoring the recent Supreme Court ruling and attempting to claim this land is my land it’s not your land on a body of water that belongs to the state.

      • Im sorry you are incorrect. The NPS has been in contact with the state regarding this stretch of river and all parties involved agree closing this section of river is appropriate. Also the park was founded before ANICLA and Alaskian Statehood therefore making the submerged land federal.

        • I must have missed the section in the Sturgeon decision that grandfathered an exemption for the navigable waters in pre-ANILCA parks. If you know where I can find that I would appreciate you sharing.

          The Sturgeon decision has to do with navigable waters not submerged land.

          I’m glad to hear the NPS has been talking with the state.

  • NPS is slow on the uptake.

  • Suzanne,

    Is there somewhere those of us who cannot fly out to King Salmon on short notice can send an email or a number we can call into for this Federal overreach and SCOTUS be damned meeting by the NPS?

    • Steve a ranger at Katmai Named Jason can be contacted to discuss this issue his number is 907-246-2127 good luck Ed

  • Uhhh…Brooks River is in Katmai National PARK, not the preserve. So the Sturgeon ruling does not affect this decision. Perhaps the author ought to do some homework before opining…

    • Peter,

      Do you think because it is a Park and not a Preserve it somehow changes the Sturgeon ruling?

  • Steve-O is completely correct. The NPS has no jurisdiction on any navigable waters in the State of Alaska. If they wish to ask the state to put restrictions on waterways that’s a different matter.

  • Over reach like in the lower 48.close roads and
    Trails from all access gate and illegal look at Idaho.montana Oregon Utah Wyoming.they nps and forest service are way out of there league.people need to wakeup and get control back.not let idiots like in the payette nat’l forest continue to run free.

  • National Park Service is another jackboot tree hugging bunny kissing agency that oversteps its authority, but because of the Alaska people’s willful act of not engaging in the affairs of the politicians and lawmakers, this will no doubt get locked up!!!

  • Anyone who thinks this is a good idea has never been to Katmai National Park and knows nothing about Brooks Falls – Brooks River is where 60-100 Brown Bears congregate every Summer to eat the Salmon they need to survive in hibernation over the winter – allowing boats in the river would completely disrupt the Bears’ activity and endanger the Bears’ safety (not to mention the safety of any human stupid enough to drive a boat up a river full of 500 – 1,000 pound bears) – in the legion of bad ideas this is one of the worst ones, Katmai is correct for wanting to close the river from June through October – there are hundreds of rivers and lakes in Alaska to drive boats in, leave Brooks river and the Bears who need it for their survival alone.

  • Apparently my first comment didn’t post.

    Brooks River is not navigable and is subject to the jurisdiction of the NPS, as well as the state. So, if the NPS wants to close this stretch of river, they can and it is typically done with concurrence from the state.

    To end the debate over whether Brooks is navigable or not, look up the definition of navigable water (Army Corps of Engineers). When Alaska became a state, any waters designated as navigable became state managed, to include ownership of submerged lands, although there might be a few caveats. Regardless, Brooks wasn’t navigable then and isn’t now and won’t be in the future in regards to the definition because it has a waterfall on it. If you still don’t believe me, check out Alaska DNRs website that has a map of navigable waterways in the state, Brooks River is not shown as one.

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