Document Type

Case Note


In 1972, Congress enacted the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMA), establishing a national program to protect and conserve marine mammals and their habitats. Promulgation of the MMPA was spurred by a recognition that "man's impactupon marine mammals has ranged from what might be termed malign neglect to virtual genocide." In essence, the MMPA was designed to prohibit the "harassing, catching and killing of marine mammals by U.S. citizens or within the jurisdiction of the United States," including those mammals which are "physiologically adapted to the oceans." The MMPA is based on the premise that marine mammals are of "great international significance, esthetic and recreational as well as economic." Enforcement responsibilities are allocated to the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Department of Interior. Although the MMPA has been amended several times, it has consistently provided a blueprint for marine mammal conservation and habitat awareness. Recently, a number of decisions have raised issues of federalism, specifically the purposes and goals of a Federal Act versus recognized states' rights to enact conservation measures. State conservation methods concerning marine mammals protected under the MMPA are prohibited by an explicit preemption clause in the enabling legislation. This preemption arguably precludes a local interest in the protection of marine mammals. In State of Alaska v. Arnariak, the Supreme Court of Alaska confronted the issue of whether or not the MMPA preempted state regulations prohibiting entry without a permit and the discharge of firearms on state lands. The court held that the legislative history and purpose of the MMPA, combined with the canon that statutes should be interpreted to avoid unconstitutional results, indicated that the "MMPA's preemption clause is not so broad as to prevent the state from limiting access to, or the discharge of firearms on, state wildlife refuges." This Casenote suggests that two problems result from this decision. The first lies in the court's inherent disregard of the overarching history, purposes, and goals of the MMPA. The second, a correlation of the first, arises in recognition that although local legitimate interests may provide valuable insights into issues of marine mammal conservation and habitat protection when associated with the goals and purposes of the MIPA, the issues must be evaluated under the M1MPA "umbrella." In embracing state rights over federal preemption, the court failed to find a "middle road" where the interests of the State in protecting its Fifth Amendment right could coexist with the general purposes of the MIVIPA.



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