Murkowski: Federal Jurisdiction Limited on State Waters

Conflicts with Federal Agents on State Waterways Prompts Review of Authority

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today made the following comments at a roundtable discussion on the jurisdictional issues related to navigable waterways on federal lands in Alaska: 

“Alaskans from all over the State are frustrated with the ongoing dispute over jurisdiction over the navigable waters in our State.  Continued uncertainty about who’s in charge – and how those agencies will enforce their regulations – only serves to harm Alaskan residents who need and deserve access to our State’s navigable waters. 

“It is my understanding that as a general matter, the U.S. Coast Guard possesses jurisdiction to ensure public safety on state waterways.  Beyond that, Alaska State Troopers hold authority to regulate all state waters.

 “But, in addition, we also have various federal agencies angling to be in charge.  I believe it’s well settled that the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management have the authority to regulate navigable waters within their respective lands in the continental United States.  But I would also point out that their mandate is not one-size-fits-all – that authority is for the continental United States, and Alaska is obviously outside of that area.

 “So what happens here?  The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which we know as ANILCA, makes most federal land within Alaska subject to different laws and regulations.  Section 103(c) of ANILCA provides that, “Only those lands within the boundaries of any conservation system unit which are public lands shall be deemed to be included as a portion of such unit.”  Along with many other Alaskans, I believe the intent of that provision is clear: Congress specifically excluded non-federal lands, including state-owned submerged lands and waterways, from the jurisdiction of the federal government. 

“Even before Jim Wilde was arrested last summer, many Alaskans were unhappy with the enforcement of regulations related to our navigable waterways.  Multiple agencies – from various levels of government – claim an enforcement role, even though our laws appear to provide otherwise.  And then came Mr. Wilde’s arrest, a moment that was both unfortunate and unacceptable.  That incident is the reason why we’re here, and it’s the reason why we must resolve these jurisdictional issues as soon as possible, and to the satisfaction of those who live by and depend on Alaska’s navigable waters.” 

Murkowski convened the roundtable at the University of Alaska Fairbanks on Monday in an attempt to help resolve the growing conflict between the state and federal governments over who has jurisdiction on navigable waterways on federal lands in Alaska.

Last year’s arrest at gunpoint of a 70-year-old boater by National Park Service rangers in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve highlighted the problem. As a result of that confrontation, Rep. Don Young, R-AK, introduced legislation that would limit the federal agency’s authority to enforce regulations on navigable waterways in the state.