Open Spaces: Bald Eagle Take Permit Issued for Religious Purposes

Bald Eagle Take Permit Issued for Religious Purposes

This week, there has been national media attention and social media conversations surrounding a permit we issued to the Northern Arapaho Tribe of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming for the one-time take of up to two bald eagles. The Service issued this permit under the authority granted by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which specifically authorizes take for Native Americans for religious purposes. To implement the Act, the Service developed regulations to guide how we issue such permits and conducted a thorough environmental review to ensure that any take permitted under the Act and the associated regulations would not negatively impact conservation of bald eagles.

While we recognize that this permit is controversial because it involves the killing of bald eagles, an iconic species, the agency carefully considered the impacts of the decision on bald eagle populations, as well as our responsibilities under the Act. The Service also must comply with other laws and obligations, including the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and the Federal government's trust responsibilities to Native American tribes.

Native American tribes value bald eagles and other wildlife in ways unique to their cultures. Indeed, Congress recognized this unique relationship when they passed the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and required the Service to consider religious uses by tribes a priority for issuing take permits under the law.

To accommodate the large majority of tribal requests, the Service manages an eagle repository to collect and distribute eagle feathers and parts from birds that are already deceased solely to tribes for religious purposes; however, in rare instances such as this one, a tribe's religious needs may not be met by the repository.

This is the first permit the Service has issued for the take of bald eagles for religious purposes under the Act, although we have permitted take of golden eagles for religious purposes in the past. The permit allows for the one-time take of up to two bald eagles.

Of course, the Service remains committed to the long-term conservation of the bald eagle. In fact, thanks to the efforts of many agencies, organizations and individuals, the bald eagle is doing so well that it was removed from the federal Endangered Species List in 2007. We will continue to work with our many partners to protect bald eagles and their habitat so that future generations of Americans can continue to experience their majestic flight, and Native American peoples can continue to exercise their religious freedoms.

For more information about the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the population status of bald eagles, visit our website at

Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
Gail McMahon's Gravatar Please reconsider this decision. I strongly oppose the killing of birds for any reason.
# Posted By Gail McMahon | 3/15/12 8:38 PM
's Gravatar That's insane. Why would Native Americans wish to sacrifice a bald eagle?
Why would USFWS go along with this? I vote NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!!
# Posted By | 3/15/12 10:37 PM
Damen Hurd's Gravatar I do not agree with this.can we have a clear answer on why live Bald Eagles are needed and why they cannot wait for a recently deceased eagle from the eagle repository service? Without further details I feel like this is a loophole opening hunting of live Eagles without purpose by Native Americans. Why suddenly is this so important after all these years? Plenty of dead eagles should be available through the eagle repository service. They should wait for a dead one like everyone else. Damen Hurd
# Posted By Damen Hurd | 3/15/12 10:43 PM
merry's Gravatar I reject the premise that indians won't be able to practise their religion unless they kill these Bald Eagles! There are eagle feathers and "parts" available to them through the federal repository. The Fish and Wildlife report is very clinical, not considering we are talking about living things, who mate for life and rear usually only one chick. If a group comes forward who claims to need a child to sacrifice, in order to practice their religion, will that permis be given? I would hope not, but can't count on that being true these days as so few respect life.
Does anyone know if the eagles will be shot or tortured then smothered, like the Hopi tribe has done in the past with Golden Eagles? I sincerely hope and pray that this horrid "permit to kill" will be rescinded ASAP!!!
# Posted By merry | 3/15/12 11:52 PM
dangotti's Gravatar The permits to permit an American Indian tribe to kill 2 bald eagles should be recinded. It is ouside the mandate of the FWS to kill off wildlife to promote a religion or its practices. Wildlife should be managed based on science to benefit the country not just to advance a few based upon religion. Promoting a religious practice violates the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution. The permits are unlawful. Feathers are available from birds injured and living in captivity as the birds molt. There are limits on the freedom of religion when one's religious practices injure another like human sacrifice or their property or a substantial public interest like the environment or preventing cruelty of animals. The permits create a dangerous precedent.
# Posted By dangotti | 3/16/12 4:03 AM
Anne Mathis's Gravatar Please consider rescinding this decision! All religions should have moved beyond the killing of wildlife or any animal for religious purposes. Native Americans should celebrate the life of the Bald Eagle, not the death for religious purposes. Will we, as humans, never evolve?
# Posted By Anne Mathis | 3/16/12 6:01 PM
Rochelle Simon's Gravatar This is wrong on many levels. Animal sacrifice is barbaric and you are condoning it. We spent years protecting our national symbol and this opens a pandora's box - allowing more tribes to desecrate our eagles. I believe in religious freedom but do you condone honor killings too? There needs to be limits set on religious freedom. This is our National Symbol which stands for the freedom so many have died for. Please do not desecrate it or we are losing freedom.
# Posted By Rochelle Simon | 3/16/12 6:13 PM
eagle watcher's Gravatar I applaud the decision to allow the Arapaho to carry out their sacred ceremony. It is NOT the decision of outsiders to meddle in what Native American tribes do or do not do in their sacred ceremonies.

I love bald eagles as much anyone else and in fact, spend a great deal of my time observing them. I spent many years learning from a Native American teacher who knew more about nature than any person or group of people I've yet to meet (up to and including so-called animals rights activists and their groups – many of whom have never spent a night out in the woods to begin with and don’t have the first clue as to what goes on either in nature OR a Native American ceremony).

Leave the Arapaho alone and stop trying to inflict your grandiose and self-serving-make-me-feel-good-because-I’m-saving-animals ideas of what should and shouldn't be a part of this tribe’s sacred ceremonies. Aho.
# Posted By eagle watcher | 3/16/12 7:12 PM
sgm's Gravatar What a shame, are we returning to ice age? What are you teaching our future generation? Let "really" conserve and protect our wildlife and natural resources. Stop the politics! NO more killing!!!
# Posted By sgm | 3/16/12 8:07 PM
smokester's Gravatar This is so very sad. I find the reasoning poor. I realize there is religious freedom in this country, but it should not be at expense of a once endangered species. I think it sets a very bad precedent.
# Posted By smokester | 3/17/12 1:33 AM
Patrick Atwell's Gravatar Dangotti, The FWS is not promoting religion, but yielding to a greater law in the nation that prohibits the government from infringing on a people's right to practice their religious belief. If you read the article carefully, the author is not making light of the hunt, nor did the FWS. Let's leave these decisions to the experts and not to the average layman.
# Posted By Patrick Atwell | 3/17/12 8:49 AM
Eileen Sullivan's Gravatar Political correctness taken to new heights.
# Posted By Eileen Sullivan | 3/17/12 10:16 AM
naw's Gravatar Dangotti, you should re-read the post:

"The Service issued this permit under the authority granted by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which specifically authorizes take for Native Americans for religious purposes. To implement the Act, the Service developed regulations to guide how we issue such permits and conducted a thorough environmental review to ensure that any take permitted under the Act and the associated regulations would not negatively impact conservation of bald eagles."

Put short, the service has an obligation to follow all regulations.
# Posted By naw | 3/17/12 10:43 AM
Jane Easterly's Gravatar I am horrified by this decision. If the decision cannot be reversed, I hope it is indeed a one-time take that is never renewed. Native American tribes have been treated in a terrible way throughout American history, but that is no reason to allow the killing of wildlife for religious reasons.
# Posted By Jane Easterly | 3/17/12 3:57 PM
GARY's Gravatar The government fights to keep the 10 Commandments out of public places, but it will sanction the killing of our national symbol to placate an Indian religious group-which then hails this as a victory for Indian sovereignty! Does this agency have the authority to approve what in any other circumstance would be a criminal act?
# Posted By GARY | 3/17/12 8:54 PM
Angie's Gravatar Are you serious? Using an eagle for insane, primitive purposes? No wonder humankind is not evolving as they should be. This decision needs to be revoked immediately, for more reasons that one can count. Disgusting and bad judgement call.
# Posted By Angie | 3/17/12 9:47 PM
Rob Drieslein's Gravatar I'm almost beyond words on this one. Shame on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for issuing this permit. Shame on the Obama Administration for blatantly pandering to the tribal lobby. Shame on all birders, and most sportsmen, for tolerating this. Embarrassing. The low point in USFWS history.
# Posted By Rob Drieslein | 3/18/12 3:56 PM
's Gravatar I am very opposed to this decision. This is opening the door for others to claim they need to "kill" 2 bald eagles for religious purposes. I feel that our "national" bird should be protected and there should NEVER, EVER be a permit to anyone or any tribe or any organization to "kill" one or any of our national birds. In addition, the permit was issued during their nesting season so there is a strong possibility of this tribe killing 2 birds from different mates and endangering the nest.If this or any native american tribe is so aware of the animals or birds then they surely must know this. I cannot and will not ever agree with this decision from your agency. This is not acceptable to me.
# Posted By | 3/19/12 12:00 PM
Rose's Gravatar This is completely wrong. I am lucky enough to have a view of a bald eagle nest and enjoy watching these amazing creatures nuture their young. Killing these birds is completely unacceptable.
# Posted By Rose | 3/19/12 1:39 PM
Suzanne DesIlets's Gravatar I strongly disagree with the issue of this permit. Why can't they use eagles that have already died? Why do they need to kill an eagle? I am am a falconer and also involved with the eagle count in my state. When you hear how many are shot, poisoned and now you are giving the go ahead for sacrafice. Come on.......
# Posted By Suzanne DesIlets | 3/19/12 3:45 PM
chip3's Gravatar Nobody should be able to kill Eagles for any reason ! They are a symbol of our Country !
# Posted By chip3 | 3/20/12 1:05 PM
's Gravatar This is completely unacceptable; the bald eagle is our national bird, for heaven's sake!.Plenty of feathers, etc, available in the repositories. Let's stop the killing!
# Posted By | 3/21/12 11:01 AM
Margie Ford's Gravatar This actually disgusts me that this would be allowed to pass. The bald eagle is our national symbol! How, on earth, would something like this be allowed? What kind of an example is this for the children in this country? This will just set a precendence for other killings. We fought for how many years too be able to bring the bald eagle back. Now you are going to let native Americans start to kill them? I am disgusted that their are people in this country that would allow this. Why now? After all these years, do they need to start killing bald eagles????
# Posted By Margie Ford | 3/21/12 8:34 PM
's Gravatar I read nothing that logically justifies the blatant, senseless killing of these gorgeous, helpless birds. A neighboring tribe even opposes this act. What about their rights? It is a selfish lazy act on the part of the tribe and an act of pandering by the government. The tribe has access to birds already. Who in his/her right mind would agree to this? I guess right mind in the key phrase. I cannot wear a cross, cannot post the Ten Commandments but this tribe has received from our govenment a go- head to return to the barbaric practice of animal sacrifice.I know my post will not have any effect, but this permission needs to be rescinded immediately.
# Posted By | 3/22/12 11:59 AM
mn shutterbug's Gravatar Absolutely rediculous! If anyone wonders why our country is in the mess it's in, just look at our law makers. It's easy to see that a person doesn't need common sense to get elected to office.
# Posted By mn shutterbug | 3/24/12 9:39 AM
's Gravatar This is a pandora's box. While I respect the right of Native Americans to worship as they please the killing of the bald and golden eagle species should not be allowed. We have a repository for their religious needs.
# Posted By | 3/25/12 3:16 PM

Last updated: June 21, 2012