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United States v. Wilde

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

December 2, 2013

JAMES ALBERT WILDE, Defendant/Appellant.


RALPH R. BEISTLINE, District Judge.

This matter arises from a four-count misdemeanor information filed on September 17, 2010.[1] The four count information charged James Albert Wilde with Interfering with an Agency Function in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 2.32(a)(1), [2] Violating a Lawful Order in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 2.32(a)(2), [3] Disorderly Conduct in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 2.34(a)(1), and Operating an Unregistered Boat, in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 3.2(b), AS 05.25.055(a) & (d) and AS 05.25.090(b)(2). These offenses were alleged to occur on or about September 16, 2010, within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Following a bench trial, the magistrate judge issued a written order concluding that the government had met its burden of proof as to Counts 1, 2, and 4, but not as to Count 3.[4] Wilde appeals.

Appellant's Brief[5] is supported by the Brief of the State of Alaska as Amicus Curiae.[6] The United States has responded, [7] supported by the National Parks Conservation Association ("NPCA") as Amicus Curiae.[8] Appellant filed a Reply.[9] The United States filed a 28(j) letter to which Wilde has responded.[10] Oral argument was not requested. The Court, being fully apprised of the matter, now enters the following order.


The construction or interpretation of a statute is a question of law reviewed de novo. Miranda v. Anchondo, 684 F.3d 844, 849 (9th Cir. 2012). Interpretation of agency regulations is also reviewed de novo. United States v. Bohn, 622 F.3d 1129, 1135 (2010). The constitutionality of a statute is reviewed de novo, as is the constitutionality of a regulation challenged as exceeding congressional authority. Bohn, 622 F.3d at 1133.


The Court takes notice of the factual background as summarized by the magistrate, which the parties do not dispute.[11] Briefly, on September 16, 2010, Wilde, his wife, and a friend, Fredrick Schenk, took Wilde's twenty-one foot Woolridge riverboat on the Yukon River for a hunting trip. National Park Service ("NPS") Rangers Andrew Dallemolle and Benjamin Grodjesk worked on the Yukon River. Dallemolle and Grodjesk were checking boats to make sure they were in compliance with applicable regulations, including boating safety and hunting and fishing regulations. Upon encountering Wilde's vessel, when the boats were between two- and three-hundred yards apart, Dallemolle went on the bow of his vessel, put out the boat's bumpers, and signaled to Wilde's boat to come toward the Rangers' boat. Wilde did as instructed. Dallemolle yelled to Mr. Shenk (the only visible passenger): "tell the driver to come to an idle... National Park Service, we're going to do a vehicle inspection." Wilde then opened a front window hatch from the cabin on the bow of his boat and stepped partially onto the bow of his boat. Wilde's boat coasted under its own momentum, with its engine idling, towards the Rangers' vessel until it was approximately 20 feet away. Dallemolle stated: "National Park Service, we're going to do a quick vehicle inspection. Shut off your engine and we'll come to you." Mr. Wilde yelled back "like hell, " stepped back into his cabin, slammed his door shut and immediately walked to the stern of his boat, where he was fully visible to Dallemolle. Wilde then yelled profanities at the Rangers, and said "I'm not stopping." Dallemolle responded "We'll have you on your way in a few minutes." Wilde responded with more profanity, powered up the vehicle, and began moving his boat forward. The Rangers put power to their engine to pursue Wilde's boat. Dallemolle gestured several times to Mr. Wilde, who made eye contact several times with Dallemolle, for Wilde to slow down or stop. It was not until Dallemolle pointed a shotgun at Wilde that Wilde headed for the bank.

Once on land, and despite the instructions to "exit the boat and sit down on the bank, " Wilde began walking toward the Rangers with clenched fists, yelling profanities. Grodjesk tried to restrain Wilde by grabbing him by the arm and taking him to the ground. Dallemolle laid his shotgun on the ground and began to assist Grodjesk. Grodjesk attempted to grab Wilde's wrists, but Wilde resisted. Dallemolle sat on Mr. Wilde's legs to prevent him from kicking Grodjesk. Wilde refused to allow himself to be handcuffed until Grodjesk drew his taser, at which time he stopped resisting and permitted himself to be handcuffed.

Based on the evidence presented at trial, the magistrate found that the United States had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Rangers were engaged in an official duty at the time of their interaction with Wilde, and that he willfully interfered with their attempts to perform their official duties. The magistrate also found that Wilde violated a lawful order given to him by the Rangers while they were engaged in a law enforcement action.[12] The magistrate further found that Wilde made no attempt to dispute the facts that supported a guilty verdict on Count 4, instead, challenging the authority of the Government to prosecute him. The magistrate concluded there was a lack of evidence, beyond the testimony of the Rangers, to prove that Wilde was guilty of disorderly conduct, as alleged in Count 3.

The magistrate judge noted that the United States has not denied that the State of Alaska owns the land underneath the river. However, he concluded that just because the State of Alaska owns the riverbed, it does not follow that the State exclusively controls the water flowing over that river bed. The magistrate found that NPS has proprietary jurisdiction (the right to regulate) over the Yukon River where it runs through the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.[13] Accordingly, in exercising that jurisdiction, the magistrate concluded that the State of Alaska's ownership of the riverbed is of no import. The magistrate's decision relied significantly on United States v. Bohn. [14]

Wilde appeals from the January 6, 2012, final judgment of the magistrate judge.[15] The crux of Wilde's argument is that there is a conflict between an Act of Congress and the application of later promulgated federal regulations, resulting in actual conflicts between federal employees unlawfully asserting their presumed authority, and citizens who operate private vessels on the Yukon River where it passes through the Preserve.[16]

Wilde's position is that the NPS does not have jurisdiction on the Yukon River to stop vessels in order to conduct safety inspections.[17]


The Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve ("the Preserve") is located in east central Alaska along the border with Canada. It encompasses one-hundred fifteen miles of the Yukon River and the entire Charley River basin. It became a federal reservation when President Carter proclaimed the area a National Monument on December 1, 1978. Congress then redesignated it a National Preserve on December 2, 1980, in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act [ANILCA].[18] ANILCA established conservation system units ("CSUs") of the National Park System, including the Yukon-Charley River National Preserve.[19] ANILCA also directed the Secretary of the Interior to administer the National Park System. Specifically, it provides the Secretary with the authority to make regulations that govern lands under the jurisdiction of the NPS.[20]

It is undisputed that the State of Alaska owns the submerged lands beneath the navigable waters of the Yukon River within the National Preserve, where the incident at issue took place. Under the Submerged Lands Act, [21] states enjoy a presumption of title to submerged lands beneath inland navigable ...

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