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Justice Dept.: Exempted Indian tribes can use eagle feathers, parts

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While federal wildlife laws criminalize the killing of eagles and other migratory birds for their feathers, the Justice Department on Friday exempted members of federally-recognized Indian tribes from the law, saying the use of eagle feathers was both "religious and cultural."

The exemption means that tribal members will not be prosecuted for wearing or carrying federally protected birds, bird feathers or bird parts, although the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and other federal wildlife laws prohibit such use.

Under the new regulation, Indian tribal members also are allowed to collect feathers found in the wild as long as they do not disturb federally protected birds or nests.

"This policy will help ensure a consistent and uniform approach across the nation to protecting and preserving eagles, and to honoring their cultural and spiritual significance to American Indians," said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. "The Department of Justice is committed to striking the right balance in enforcing our nation's wildlife laws by respecting the cultural and religious practices of federally recognized Indian tribes with whom the United States shares a unique government-to-government relationship."

Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno, who is head of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, described the new policy as "a major step forward by establishing a consistent and transparent policy to guide federal enforcement of the nation's wildlife laws."

Mr. Holder signed the new policy after what the Justice Department described as "extensive department consultation" with tribal leaders and tribal groups. The policy covers all federally protected birds, bird feathers and bird parts.

The policy provides that federally recognized tribal members will not be prosecuted for possessing, using, wearing or carrying federally protected birds, bird feathers or other bird parts; picking up fallen feathers found in the wild, without molesting or disturbing federally protected birds or their nests; giving or loaning federally protected bird parts to other members of federally recognized tribes; or giving feathers or other parts of federally protected birds to tribal crafters to be fashioned into objects for eventual use in tribal religious or cultural activities.

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