Environment | Law

Justice Department announces policy on use of eagle feathers

The Department of Justice today released a new policy on the use of eagle feathers and parts by members of federally recognized tribes.

Federal law protects golden and bald eagles, as well as certain migratory birds. But the new policy states that members of federally recognized tribes will not be prosecuted for using feathers of parts in connection with cultural and religious practices.

“This policy will help ensure a consistent and uniform approach across the nation to protecting and preserving eagles, and to honoring their cultural and spiritual significance to American Indians,” Attorney General Holder said in a press release. “The Department of Justice is committed to striking the right balance in enforcing our nation’s wildlife laws by respecting the cultural and religious practices of federally recognized Indian tribes with whom the United States shares a unique government-to-government relationship.”

Generally, tribal members won't be prosecuted in the following situations:
· Possessing, using, wearing or carrying federally protected birds, bird feathers or other bird parts (federally protected bird parts);
· Traveling domestically with federally protected bird parts or, if tribal members obtain and comply with necessary permits, traveling internationally with such items;
· Picking up naturally molted or fallen feathers found in the wild, without molesting or disturbing federally protected birds or their nests;
· Giving or loaning federally protected bird parts to other members of federally recognized tribes, without compensation of any kind;
· Exchanging federally protected bird parts for federally protected bird parts with other members of federally recognized tribes, without compensation of any kind;
· Providing the feathers or other parts of federally protected birds to craftspersons who are members of federally recognized tribes to be fashioned into objects for eventual use in tribal religious or cultural activities.

The term "compensation" means that eagle feathers and parts cannot be exchanged for cash or for goods or services of any kind, according to the policy.

In recent years, non-Indians, members of non-recognized tribes and members of formerly recognized tribes have challenged prosecution for possession of eagle feathers and parts. The policy does not apply in these situations but it states that prosecutors can use their discretion.

Get the Story:
Tribal Member Use of Feathers or Other Parts of Federally Protected Birds: Fact Sheet on Department of Justice Policy (DOJ 10/12)

Relevant Documents:
Memorandum: Possession or Use of the Feathers or Other Parts of Federally Protected Birds for Tribal Cultural and Religious Purposes (October 12, 2012)

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