Tribes and the U.S. Government have been working for years on an eagle strategy that balances conservation with religious freedom, and another piece of this puzzle may be in place with the advent of new rules streamlining the procurement process.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Streamlines National Eagle Repository Rules

ICTMN Staff
4/15/14

Seeking to reduce the sometimes years-long wait for eagle feathers and other parts for ceremonial purposes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued new rules for access to these items from the National Eagle Repository.

“The Service recognizes the importance of eagles in the cultural and religious pursuits of many Tribal members, and is committed to facilitating those pursuits through the fair and efficient distribution of eagles and their parts by the Repository,” the USFWS said in a statement on April 10. “The wait times for different eagle parts vary widely, from one month for certain eagle parts to upwards of four and a half years for a whole immature golden eagle.”

With applications reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis, with thousands orders being filled each year, waiting times vary widely, the U.S. agency said. The type of eagle part being sought also influences the wait time. Immature golden eagles with black and white tail feathers are generally the rarest of all and have the longest waiting time because of demand.

After consulting with tribes throughout 2012 and 2013, the federal government crafted new regulations, to take effect on June 1, 2014. That will not be the last word, as the USFWS will monitor the changes for two years to see if they are working.

The changes include limiting inmates to one order only, “either feathers or parts, up to one whole eagle, until they are released from incarceration or the facility’s maximum feather possession amount per individual increases”; update the website log of order status and availability more frequently; create an online reordering system; encourage applicants to order only what they are specifically going to use for a given ceremony, rather than an entire bird, and make the online application process a tad simpler.

“We hope these changes will have the desired effect of decreasing wait times and ensuring high levels of customer service to our applicants,” the USFWS said in its statement.

Eagle feather limits have been a sore point with tribes whose members use them for ceremonial purposes, not least of all because the government that controls access to the parts and feathers represents the people who were largely responsible for endangering eagles in the first place. The new rules provide a complement to the ones issued last fall by the U.S. Attorney General’s office, which clarify and govern American Indians’ use of eagle feathers and parts.

RELATED: Justice Department Issues Policy on Tribal Use of Eagle Feathers and Parts

It’s all part and parcel of an ongoing dialogue between Indian tribes and the federal government over the best way to use and obtain eagle parts for ceremonial use, while working together on conservation. The latest initiative in this effort was Eagle Summit III, held on March 20 by the USFWS Mountain-Prairie Region and the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society (NAFWS) at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Denver. More than 55 tribal leaders and members attended. More information and documents are available at Eagle Summit III.

RELATED: Eagles Remain in Indian Hands

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