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FAIRBANKS - U.S. Rep. Don Young is questioning just how much authority the National Park Service has to enforce safety checks for boaters on the Yukon River.
The Alaska congressman met Wednesday with National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and Alaska Regional Director Sue Masica to talk about what Young called "the egregious abuse of power displayed" by park service employees this summer.
Complaints about the safety check policy have grown since Jim Wilde, a 70-year-old Alaska man, was arrested by park rangers in September while boating on the Yukon River within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
Wilde is facing trial Jan. 18 on four misdemeanor charges after telling two rangers he felt it was unsafe to board his boat in the middle of the river for a safety check.
According to Wilde's lawyer, Bill Satterberg of Fairbanks, Wilde headed for shore and rangers brandished a shotgun and pointed it at Wilde, his wife and a 65-year-old friend.
The rangers threw Wilde to the ground just after he set anchor and then handcuffed him and arrested him, Satterberg said. They took him to Circle and then drove him to Fairbanks, where he was placed in jail for four days.
Young, who requested the meeting after learning of Wilde's arrest, said he "made it very clear" to Jarvis - the former head of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska - he believes the park service is overstepping its authority under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.
"I was in Congress when ANILCA was passed, and I believe the park service is blatantly misinterpreting the law regarding jurisdiction over navigable waters," Young said. "The National Park Service has worked hard to build a rapport with Alaskans, and the rash actions taken by local enforcement authorities only serves to harm that relationship," he said.
Park service spokesman John Quinley said the agency is still pursuing the case against Wilde and maintains its authority on waters flowing through federal lands.
But the park service values good relations with communities, visitors and subsistence users, Quinley said, and Jarvis assured Young the agency will continue "to reach out and engage those folks" with any concerns they have about how the park service is managing the preserve.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski earlier asked the park service for a full review of the incident. Gov. Sean Parnell filed a court brief on Wilde's behalf. He also asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to amend federal regulations the park service claims gives the agency jurisdiction on state waterways.
The city council in Eagle, a small town that borders the Yukon-Charley preserve near the Canada border, also recently wrote a letter to the park service, Gov. Sean Parnell and Interior lawmakers, both federal and state, complaining about heavy-handed treatment by rangers.