JACKSON, Wyo. – The Northern Arapaho Tribe and a man accused of shooting a bald eagle on the Wind River Indian Reservation say the federal government should make it easier for American Indians to apply to kill bald eagles for use in religious ceremonies.
The tribe has filed a brief in the case of Winslow Friday, who allegedly shot the eagle without a permit in March 2005, and planned to make its arguments before U.S. District Judge William Downes on Monday.
The case moves forward as the federal government considers removing protections for bald eagles as a threatened species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comments on the proposal through June 19.
Federal law allows enrolled tribal members to get a permit to kill bald eagles in certain cases. But Friday and the Northern Arapaho say there is no clear way to apply for the permit. They also say the bald eagle population in Wyoming and other states has grown large enough to enable some of the birds to be killed with little harm to the species.
In the federal government's response, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart Healy said allowing people to shoot eagles without permission would undermine the current balance between preservation and religious freedom.
Healy argued that there was no evidence Friday was selected to hunt an eagle or that he had purified himself prior to shooting the eagle. Purification is said to be necessary for the eagle to be used in a ceremony, Healy wrote.
Also, also noted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a repository in Denver of eagles shot illegally or killed by cars or power lines.
Friday and the Northern Arapaho say relying on the eagle repository results in long delays and that those eagles can't be used in some traditional ceremonies.
If convicted, Friday faces up to a year in jail and a fine up to $100,000.
Bald eagles were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. They were reclassified from endangered to threatened in 1995 and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now estimates that more than 7,700 nesting pairs of bald eagles inhabit the lower 48 states.
Even if bald eagles were removed from Endangered Species Act protection, they would continue to be protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.