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Terry Stevens, operations director of Liberty Wildlife fed the eagle a rat while executive director Megan Mosby discussed the feather repository pilot program.

Pilot Program Makes Non-Eagle Feathers Available to Native Americans

By Jennifer Hernandez
Au-Authm Action News

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), in cooperation with Liberty Wildlife Rehabilitation Foundation in Scottsdale, has established a two-year pilot, non-eagle feather repository to provide Native Americans with a permitted source to obtain non-eagle feathers from federally regulated migratory birds for religious and cultural use.

Joe Early, Southwest Region 2 Native American Liaison with the USFWS, said after serving for the past 19 years and working with tribal members he has had several issues come up regarding the process to obtain feathers.

“Up until recently there was no legal way to obtain feathers, other than eagle feathers through national repositories, and that can take several years,” he said.

The USFWS established a similar pilot program with the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma in June. Bill Voelker is director of SIA, the Comanche Nation Ethno-Ornithological Initiative. Early said the plan is to evaluate these pilot programs to see what works and whether something similar can be formed to serve nationally.

“Overall our goal is to get legal acquisition for non-eagle feathers through a repository and distribution program,” Early said.

“Animals in the natural world have played a significant role and continue to play a big role in Native American lives and cultures, being instrumental in ceremonies, dances and songs,” said Robert Mesta with the USFWS Sonoran Joint Venture Program. He said as far back as the early 1900s with the Lacey Act and Migratory Bird Act, it became more difficult to obtain feathers through traditional gathering methods. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act also contributed to the difficulty in collecting feathers.

“For a long time there has not been a legal vehicle for Native Americans to obtain non-eagle feathers, carcasses and parts. We are all working very hard and seriously to get this program out to Native Americans in the right way so generations after us will not have to suffer the indignities when it comes to getting feathers and bird parts,” Mesta said.

Native American Connections President and CEO Diana Yazzie-Devine said it was important to get involved to ensure the feathers can get out to the right people within Native communities.

Megan Mosby, executive director of Liberty Wildlife, said, “The opportunities being created for tribal members are extremely important and we are grateful to have such a pilot program in place.” Mosby said the Liberty Wildlife pilot program began in July and should open by October 1.

“We want to operate with total cultural sensitivities and distribute feathers equitably on a first-come, first-served basis. We will maintain and improve their condition and will only accept good-quality feathers in their natural condition,” she said.

Various protected migratory birds, feathers and parts will be authorized for transfer to this new repository by bird rehabilitators, zoos, falconers and other USFWS-permitted entities. Based on the process used by the USFWS National Eagle Repository in Denver, Colorado, federally enrolled tribal members will now be able to apply for, acquire and possess non-eagle federally regulated migratory bird feathers and their parts for religious and cultural use. Mosby said all feathers come from legalized sources. She said Liberty Wildlife has a steady supply right now and will be seeking parts for other legal entities as well.

“Once we get the feathers, parts and carcasses, we have a process to catalog all the items,” she said. “We will record the condition of feathers when we get them, and in our internal process we are going to barcode the files and parts to keep track of everything going in and out.”

Mosby said there are two ways to submit an application for the feathers. Tribal members can go to the USFWS Region 2 office in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and start the process. They will take the request and verify whether the individual is a recognized tribal member and then fax the approval to Liberty Wildlife. The other option is to fill out an application directly with Liberty Wildlife, which will then collect all applications, enter them into a database at the end of each week and send them to the Region 2 permit office to get the approval on the individuals applying.

“Once we get the OK, we will contact the applicant and let them know they have been approved and set up how [the feathers will] be sent to them or picked up,” Mosby said. “We will send a letter of acknowledgement so that particular [bird] part has legal paperwork behind it, and we will also keep one on file. Then from there, we will ensure the part has been delivered to the applicant.”

Mosby said each applicant who is granted a permit is only able to obtain one full carcass. The permit and MOA do not allow for the taking of any protected migratory birds. The majority of feathers will be naturally molted feathers.

For more information, visit www.libertywildlife.org/index.asp or call (480) 998-5550. Contact Bill Voelker, director of SIA, the Comanche Nation Ethno-Ornithological Initiative, at (520) 464-2750, or Joe Early of the USFWS at (505) 248-6602 or e-mail joe_early@fws.gov.

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