Environment | Law

10th Circuit allows charges in non-Indian eagle feather case

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated criminal charges against a non-Indian man for possessing eagle feathers.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act bars the possession of eagle feathers and eagle parts. Exceptions are allowed for members of federally recognized tribes who apply for a permit.

Samuel Ray Wilgus Jr., a non-Indian, said the permitting process violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The 10th CIrcuit disagreed and said the law advances two compelling interests -- eagle protection and providing for the religious needs of members of federally recognized tribes -- and does so in the least restrictive manner.

"By allowing only members of federally-recognized tribes an essential though otherwise prohibited commodity (eagle feathers and parts), the United States ensures that those tribes are able to continue to practice their traditional culture to the greatest extent possible," the decision stated.

"And by limiting the permitting process to only members of those recognized tribes, the United States does its best to guarantee that those tribes, which share a unique and constitutionally-protected relationship with the federal government, will receive as much of a very scarce resource (eagle feathers and parts) as possible," the court stated.

Wilgus intends to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Get the Story:
Court: Eagle feathers only for American Indians (AP 3/29)

10th Circuit Decision:
US v. Wilgus (March 29, 2011)

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