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Episode 40: Alaska Turf Wars

By KTVA Alaska 9:31 AM February 1, 2016

Alaskans, as a group, believe that we’re different. And we are.

The size of our state, its extreme weather, its remote areas with no road access, its diversity of Alaska Native cultures, the dependence of many Alaskans on wild foods, our state government’s dependence on oil revenue, our Permanent Fund Dividend checks…

Yes, all these things make us very different from other states.

But federal policies after statehood also define our uniqueness – landmark legislation like the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Since statehood there have been many battles about who controls Alaska’s land and the waters.

The latest involves a hunter and a hovercraft – John Sturgeon, who took his fight to use his hovercraft in the Yukon Charley National Park and Preserve – all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Legal experts on both sides of this fight say the outcome of this case could have far reaching implications, affecting hunters and fishers, both subsistence and non-subsistence users – as well as development of lands owned by Alaska Native corporations inside federal parks and preserves.

This Sunday on Frontiers, KTVA’s Emily Carlson, gives us a look at why the Sturgeon case matters. She talks with Sturgeon in Washington D.C., just before US Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in a case.

I’m oversimplifying things here; but in general, this is Sturgeon’s argument:

Alaska’s navigable rivers and streams are under state control, giving him the right to operate his hovercraft in waters that run through National Park Service land.

The National Park Service, which bans hovercraft on its preserves nationally, says Alaska is no different than other states; its citizens must comply with federal laws.

Sturgeon, however, says Alaska “is” different — because ANILCA says Alaskans have unique status.

Also on this week’s show, we’ll tap the expertise of Steve Haycox, a University of Alaska Anchorage history professor, who has written a number of books about our state’s love-hate relationship with the federal government. My favorite is “Frigid Embrace.”  Such an interesting image, is it not?

Haycox will explain how land ownership in Alaska, which is very complicated, set the stage for this US Supreme Court showdown.

I call this a spaghetti-bowl story, so tangled it can give you a headache trying to figure it out. But it’s important for Alaskans to understand — and Professor Haycox does a good job of making this issue digestible.

We’ve done our best to make it as painless and as informative as possible. But there are just many issues involved that we didn’t have time to get to. Do we dare reprise this story at a future date? Please comment below.

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