Airboaters lose high court appeal

Posted: Wednesday, March 07, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Alaska Supreme Court has denied an appeal from the Interior Alaska Airboat Association to overturn a state Game Board ruling that closed a portion of the Tanana Flats to moose hunting by airboat.

The ruling Friday ended a legal wrestling match between the state and Fairbanks airboaters who feel they are being discriminated against because their boats are too loud, not because they kill too many moose or threaten habitat.

The airboat association sued the state shortly after the state Board of Game created the 1.6-million acre Nenana Controlled Use Area in 1996. The association appealed a decision by the state Superior Court which upheld the game board's decision.

''There's nothing else we can do,'' association president Roger Redfern told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The group spent more than $80,000 in its attempt to overturn the game board's decision, he said.

The association also was asking for the abolishment of the Noatak Controlled Use Area, which closes a 220-mile section of the Noatak River to the use of aircraft for hunting.

The state Board of Game created the Nenana Controlled Use Area at the request of hunters in Nenana, a small town on the Parks Highway about 50 miles south of Fairbanks. Hunters claimed people who hunted moose with airboats had an unfair advantage over hunters in canoes and riverboats and were interfering with traditional hunting techniques.

The Nenana Controlled Use Area stretches 2,000 square miles between the Kantishna River on the west to the Wood River on the east to the Tanana River on the north and to the foothills of the Alaska Range on the south. In 1998, the game board modified the area to allow hunting by airboat along the main channels of the Nenana River, as well as the Teklanika and Toklat rivers.

In its decision, the Supreme Court said it is up to the Board of Game to determine restrictions for means and methods of taking big game. The Court referred to such regulations as ''time-honored management tools accepted as legitimate by the framers of the Alaska Constitution.''

The game board acted within ''both its statutory and its constitutional mandate, and was the result of careful examination and study,'' the Court wrote.

''The Board of Game has both the right and the obligation to resolve disputes among competing users of Alaska's wildlife resources and this is especially so when it finds that subsistence uses have suffered by virtue of competing use,'' stated the Court's written opinion.

Fairbanks attorney Lynn Levengood, who represented the airboat association throughout the five-year legal wrangling, was disappointed but not surprised by the Supreme Court's decision.

''It's a continuation of a liberal court's rubber stamping of government action regardless of the factual evidence,'' Levengood said.

There was no biological reason to ban airboats from the area and the game board's decision to do so was arbitary, according to Levengood. But instead of addressing the merits of the regulation, the Supreme Court focused on the process the Board of Game used to approve it.

''The Supreme Court basically said the boards of fish and game can put any restriction on anything and as long as they go through the process, that's OK,'' Levengood said. ''That should be scary to all Alaskans.''

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