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Senate bill addresses use of eagles away from reservation

Feb 10, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

A bill that would change a Wyoming law pertaining to the taking of eagles off the Wind River Reservation passed in the Wyoming Senate and now sits in the House in the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee for further deliberation.

Wyoming statute currently prohibits the taking of eagles off the reservation, but Senate File 162 would amend that law if passed.

Under federal law, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows eagles to be taken with an issued permit.

Wyoming State Sen. Bernadine Craft, D-Rock Springs, said this amendment is intended to reflect federal law and apply to master falconers.

"To let you know how restricted the bill is, there are currently six master falconers in Wyoming," Craft said, adding that no area of "livestock depredation" has been declared in the last five years. Master falconers are allowed to take eagles for the control of predation on livestock.

State Sen. Cale Case, who supports the bill, said it would "allow the taking of an eagle when consistent with federal law and when approved by the Game and Fish Commission."

The commission serves as the policy making board for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The bill is sponsored by Craft, along with Sen. John Hastert, D-Green River, and Rep. Kathy Davison, R-Kemmerer, John Freeman, D-Green River, and Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete.

Rep. Goggles said he is monitoring the bill to make sure it won't affect the killing of eagles on the Wind River Reservation. He added that he hopes to "find some common ground" between both tribes on the reservation regarding the issue that has caused some disagreements in the past.

Case said this bill possibly could apply to a Wyoming tribe member only if they applied for a permit to kill an eagle off of the reservation.

"It won't affect the religious practices of the tribes at all," Craft said about the bill. "The bill basically seeks to bring our Wyoming statutes into compliance with Game and Fish Commission regulations."

Last year the federal wildlife agency granted the first federal permit allowing the Northern Arapaho tribe to kill two mature bald eagles a year for religious purposes. The Eastern Shoshone tribe, who shares reservation land with the Northern Arapaho, challenged the permit because they oppose the killing of eagles on the reservation.

The agency set the requirement that the eagles couldn't be killed on the reservation. Because Wyoming law prohibits the killing of eagles off the reservation, the Northern Arapaho were unable to kill any eagles on or off the reservation. They then filed court papers to seek further clarification and receive granted rights.

Goggles said he would also like to work toward bringing an eagle repository to Wyoming. "Obviously it's going to take a change in federal law," Goggles said. "Most people I've talked to have expressed interest."

Goggles said to bring that to Wyoming both tribes would have to agree to comply with federal regulations, adding that a common definition of what it means to take eagles would have to be discussed because he said it has a different meaning to the tribes and in federal and state laws.

"The tribes themselves have to be willing to participate," he said. "It's going to be a lengthy process, but getting started is my principal goal."