Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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American Indian use of bird feathers reviewed

Minneapolis – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the
process of reviewing comments received on a proposal to develop a
system of distributing protected migratory bird feathers and other
parts to American Indian tribes for religious and other uses.

The proposal doesn’t include eagle feathers and parts, which are
distributed to tribes via an eagle repository located in

Birds to be included in the current proposal range from
federally protected songbirds to raptors and other species,
according to Andrea Kirk, the USFWS Region 3 migratory bird
permitting chief.

Kirk said last week that it’s early in the process of reviewing
the 100-plus comments the agency received during the summer.

“We don’t expect (a proposed rule) anytime soon,” she said,
adding that March may be the earliest the public is able to see the
agency’s “preferred alternative.”

Kirk said she must consider the public comments, and refer to
the National Environmental Policy Act as a checklist when
considering possible alternatives that would allow tribes to
possess the parts of protected bird species.

She said completing the environmental assessment includes
consideration of “biological and human impacts,” developing a list
of alternatives, then selecting the alternative that least impacts
the resource, in this case, protected migratory birds.

Currently, there is no means by which American Indian tribal
members may acquire protected bird feathers, other than those of

According to an earlier press release from the USFWS, during the
1990s, tribal members were able to acquire feathers of protected
birds from the National Eagle Repository. But in 1999, the USFWS
suspended distribution of non-eagle feathers due to “administrative
resource constraints.” Since then, the USFWS hasn’t issued permits
to enrolled tribal members who use non-eagle feathers in religious
and cultural ceremonies.

It was about that time that an internal USFWS task force
recommended a policy be developed for the acquisition of protected
bird species feathers by American Indian tribal members.

Kirk said it’s possible an eventual policy might not include
distribution of bird feathers and parts at the national repository.
Rather, the USFWS might oversee a program in which tribes
themselves distribute feathers and parts.

During the public comment period, the USFWS sought comment on a
number of topics, including impacts on migratory bird populations
and other wildlife.

Kirk said a preferred alternative may be available in March.
Once that preferred alternative and other alternatives are
published in the Federal Register, there will be a 90-day comment

After those comments are reviewed (a process that likely would
take two to three months), the final rule must be approved on
several levels in Washington.

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