Anchorage Daily News: Delegation's measure would bar NPS from stopping boaters

FAIRBANKS -- Language inserted into a federal spending bill would bar the National Park Service from stopping boaters in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.

The provision was added by members of Alaska's congressional delegation after park rangers last year arrested a man who wouldn't let them on his boat for what they called a routine safety inspection, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner reported Friday.

Jim Wilde was chased by two rangers after he cursed them out and continued upriver. One of the rangers drew a pistol, then a shotgun, but did not fire. Wilde was arrested after a brief scuffle when he pulled over to a riverbank.

Wilde's arrest was seen by some Alaskans, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, as excessive. Murkowski said Thursday that she and Young worked together on the language included in the Interior appropriations bill to address what she called "the growing frustration Alaskans have with the unprecedented overreach of federal land managers."

 "Park Service rangers are not the Coast Guard," she said in a statement.

John Quinley, a park service spokesman in Anchorage, declined comment except to say that if it passes, the Park Service won't do boat safety checks in the 2.5-million acre preserve east of Fairbanks.

The provision, included in a massive spending package covering budgets for 10 Cabinet departments, passed the House on Friday, 296-121. It still must clear the Senate.

The newspaper said there has been a long-running dispute between the state and federal governments about jurisdiction in the preserve and other areas managed by the National Park Service in Alaska. In January, as part of the Wilde case, a federal judge ruled the Park Service has authority to stop boats on the Yukon River.

Murkowski said she is seeking a permanent solution that clarifies the state has sovereign rights over its navigable waters even within federal land management units. She said the provision in the spending bill doesn't clear that up but "it does eliminate the possibility of future confrontations between boaters and rangers."

A federal magistrate found Wilde guilty of interfering with a government agent engaged in an official duty, violating a lawful order by a park ranger and operating an unregistered boat. Sentencing is set for next month.
Source: Originally published on December 16, 2011