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Bald Eagle Ruling Makes Birds' Protection a Bit Harder for Feds

Image: Bald Eagle Ruling Makes Birds' Protection a Bit Harder for Feds
(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 21 Aug 2014 07:53 PM

Protecting bald eagles just got a little bit tougher for federal officials this week.

Previously, a lower court upheld permit regulations that allowed only members of Native American tribes to possess eagle feathers for religious purposes. On Wednesday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this permit was unnecessary and was not the "least restrictive means" in going about protecting the American national symbol, Reuters reported.

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Seven years ago, the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list after nesting pairs were shown to have increased from 400 in the early 1960s to about 10,000 in the lower 48 states.

The fight began when Michael Russell, who is not a Native American, and Robert Soto, a pastor at McAllen Grace Brethren Church in Texas who said he was part of an unrecognized tribe, had their bald eagle feathers confiscated at a 2006 ceremony. The two men were plaintiffs in the challenge to the U.S. permit regulations that allowed eagle feathers to be possessed by members of only federally recognized tribes.

In their arguments, Russell and Soto claimed that their rights under the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act were violated.

The case against the government referred to the Eagle Protection Act of 1940 that sought to protect the bald eagle from becoming extinct and fight against the illegal trading of the birds’ feathers. That act, which sought protections for the bird as America’s symbol of freedom, limited trading of the bald eagles’ feathers but allowed for exceptions for Native American tribes.

This clause muddied the waters were federal agents tasked with having to verify whether people who had the eagles’ feathers were truly Native American.

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Protecting bald eagles just got a little bit tougher for federal officials this week.
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Thursday, 21 Aug 2014 07:53 PM
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