Department of Justice Issues Policy on Eagle Feathers

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Contact: Jared King

Navajo Nation Washington Office

Tel 202.682.7390

Cel 202.200-0625

jking@nnwo.org

www.nnwo.org

For Immediate Release

Department of Justice Issues Policy on Eagle Feathers

WASHINGTON—On October 12, the U.S. Department of Justice formalized its longstanding policy on the rights of enrolled members of federally recognized Indian tribes and their possession of restricted migratory bird feathers and parts, including eagles. The Department of Justice worked closely with the U.S. Department of the Interior and consulted extensively with tribes in developing this policy. 

Eagles and other migratory birds are protected under federal wildlife laws, and these laws generally prohibit the possession, use, and sale of the birds, their feathers or other bird parts, as well as the unauthorized killing of such birds. These restrictions protect bird populations, promoting their health and sustainability. However, eagles and other protected birds hold great significance for many Indian tribes, often playing a vital role in tribal religious and cultural practices.

The formalized policy attempts to balance the ability of tribal members to use the feathers and other parts of protected birds, with a shared interest in protecting wildlife.

Under the policy, the Department of Justice will not prosecute members of federally recognized tribes who:                                                                

  • Have or use the feathers or parts of eagles or other migratory birds;                
  • Pick up naturally fallen or molted feathers found in the wild, without disturbing birds or their nests;*                                                                              
  • Give or lend the feathers or other parts of eagles or other migratory birds to other members of federally recognized tribes;                                                    
  • Exchange with other members of federally recognized tribes, without payment of any kind, the feathers or other parts of eagles or other migratory birds for other such items;
  • Give the feathers or other parts of eagles or other migratory birds to crafts-persons who are also members of federally recognized tribes to be fashioned into cultural or religious items. Crafts-persons may be paid for their work, but no payment may be made for the feathers or other parts of the eagles or other migratory birds;
  • Travel in the United States with the feathers or other parts of eagles or other migratory birds;
  • Obtain the proper permits required for international travel with the feathers or other parts of eagles or other protected migratory birds;

Members of federally recognized tribes do not need permits to possess the feathers or other parts of eagles or other migratory birds, or to engage in the other activities listed above (with the exception of permits required for international travel).

The Department of Justice will continue to prosecute tribal members and nonmembers alike for:

  • Buying or selling the feathers or other parts of eagles or other migratory birds or trading them for goods or services (or attempting to do so).
  • Killing federally protected birds without a permit. Tribal members can apply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for permits to take (including to kill) eagles for religious purposes.

Tribal citizens with questions about the policy may contact the Office of Tribal Justice at (202) 514-8812.

Tribal citizens can also find information on other eagle feather issues on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, at www.fws.gov/le/national-eagle-repository.html, and through links available from that page.

*Fish and Wildlife Service still requires that dead birds, found in the wild or on roadways, must be turned over to them. Actual enforcement and prosecution of this provision seems difficult—unless someone is caught in the act of picking up road kill.

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