Bill Blocks NPS from Conducting Boating Checks on State Waters

Senator: “Park Service Rangers Are Not the Coast Guard”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Lisa Murkowski today announced that the 2012 Interior Appropriations bill includes language restricting the National Park Service’s authority to conduct boater safety checks within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.

“Congressman Young and I worked together to craft this language to address the growing frustration Alaskans have with the unprecedented overreach of federal land managers,” Murkowski said. “Park Service rangers are not the Coast Guard.” 

The provision prohibits the National Park Service from enforcing boating regulations on the Yukon River within the Yukon-Charley National Preserve. Instead, it properly leaves the authority to conduct boater safety and registration checks to the U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska State Troopers.

The legislation was prompted by an ongoing dispute between the state and federal government over jurisdiction on state waterways within federal land management units that arose out of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. Murkowski said the dispute reached a tipping point in September 2010 with the arrest of a 71-year-old boater on the Yukon River in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.

“While this does not resolve the underlying jurisdictional dispute between the state and federal government over who has authority over navigable waters within Alaska’s federal park units, it does eliminate the possibility of future confrontations between boaters and rangers,” Murkowski said. “It is my hope that this will free up the Park Service to work on land-based recreational issues within the preserve.”

The language was anticipated to be included in an omnibus package this week. In an unexpected development, the appropriations bills were unveiled as stand-alone legislation in the House of Representatives early Thursday morning. The Senate is expected to introduce companion legislation soon, though final passage is not assured.

In August, Murkowski held a roundtable discussion in Fairbanks on limits to federal jurisdiction on state waters. In addition, the state has sued the federal government, asserting that the Alaska Statehood Act and ANILCA give it sole jurisdiction over all navigable waters, even those that pass through federal lands.

Murkowski said she would continue working to find a permanent solution clarifying that the state has sovereign rights over its navigable waters, even within federal land management units.