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 http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/baldeagle.htm.