Hale Lawsuit Finally Comes to an End

Family Unlawfully Bulldozed 14 Miles in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

Apr 23, 2008
Lisa Oakley

An access dispute between the National Park Service and the Hale family – popularly known as the Pilgrims – has finally been resolved. On December 10, 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States denied a petition of writ of certiorari filed by the Hales, bringing closure to the legal dispute that spanned several years and received national attention.

Fall colors in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. NPS Photo by Bryan Petrtyl.

Fall colors in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. NPS Photo by Bryan Petrtyl.

In Spring of 2002, members of the Hale family bulldozed a road to their home near McCarthy across approximately 14 miles of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park without first informing the Park Service or obtaining the necessary permission. The damage wrought by the bulldozer included the destruction of 145-year-old trees and other vegetation on Parks lands and numerous crossings of McCarthy Creek. The Park Service closed the bulldozed route and attempted to assist the Hales in applying for a permit to cross park lands. Instead, the Hales sued the Park Service, claiming that the agency lacked the authority to require a permit, and that they had the right to build the road under R.S. 2477 (a right-of-way law enacted in 1866) and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Trustees for Alaska intervened representing the National Parks Conservation Association, Alaska Center for the Environment and The Wilderness Society. We argued that the Park Service has the authority to regulate access across its lands, and that the Park Service is indeed obligated to condition access permits so as to protect Park resources. In 2003, a federal district court ruled in favor of the Park Service and our clients and dismissed the lawsuit.

The Hales appealed the decision before the Ninth Circuit. In a series of three opinions, the Ninth Circuit upheld the lower court decision, refusing to disturb settled law that the Park Service has the authority to require an access permit, and upholding the agency’s decision to conduct an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act before issuing the permit. With the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of the Hales’ cert petition, the Ninth Circuit decision stands and the Pilgrims’ access saga comes to a welcome close.

Clients: National Parks Conservation Association, Alaska Center for the Environment and The Wilderness Society

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