Blog: New DOJ policy won't change long wait for eagle feathers

"In 1975, the Department of Interior reassured Native Americans they would not be prosecuted by the federal government for using eagle feathers for cultural or religious purposes. But the “Morton Policy,” as the directive is known, didn’t answer several important questions, leading to confusion on the part of tribal members. For example, was it okay to pick up found eagle feathers? Did Native Americans need a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit to possess eagle feathers? Could feathers be bought and sold?

Last week, the Department of Justice rolled out a new policy, developed with extensive input from tribal leaders, designed to answer many of those questions and formalize the DOI’s longstanding practice. The new policy reiterates that the DOJ will not prosecute tribal members who possess, use or wear feathers and other body parts of federally protected birds, including eagles. Picking up feathers from the ground is okay (as long as they’re not plucked from the carcass of a dead bird). Trading feathers among tribal members (but not with non-natives) is permitted as well, as long as no money is exchanged. Killing eagles, however, is still illegal without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

One thing the policy doesn’t change is how Native Americans can acquire new eagle feathers. Other than finding molted feathers on the ground, the only option is to apply for a permit and make a request from the National Eagle Repository outside of Denver, a kind of graveyard for dead eagles shipped there by other agencies, zoos, etc. As of last May, tribal members had to wait five years for the carcass of an immature golden eagle, two and a half years for a bald eagle and six months for 10 hand-picked wing and tail feathers."

Get the Story:
Emily Guerin: Bureaucracy and the birds (The GOAT Blog / High Country News 10/18)

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)

Related Stories:
Justice Department announces policy on use of eagle feathers (10/12)

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