Tribe, feds agree to wait 60 days on eagle lawsuit

Mar 26, 2013 By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- A lawsuit between the Northern Arapaho Tribe and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the tribe's fight for a permit allowing it to kill bald eagles for religious purposes is on hold for 60 days while both sides consider implications of a new Wyoming law.

U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson on Monday signed an order staying proceedings in the tribe's ongoing lawsuit against the federal wildlife management agency.

Wyoming last month changed its law to allow falconers with proper permits to capture eagles. State officials have said the change was necessary because the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish recently had taken over administration of falconry programs.

The new law also may provide an avenue for settling a lawsuit that has pitted the Northern Arapaho Tribe not only against the federal government but also against the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. Both tribes share the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming.

The Fish and Wildlife Service last year issued the Northern Arapaho Tribe the nation's first permit allowing them to kill bald eagles for religious purposes.

However, the federal permit specified that the Northern Arapaho couldn't kill eagles on the Wind River Indian Reservation because the Eastern Shoshone Tribe opposed it. And until last month, state law prohibited killing eagles off the reservation -- leaving the Arapaho with no place in the state where there permit would be valid.

The Northern Arapaho Tribe and the Fish and Wildlife Service filed notice with Johnson on Friday asking for a 60-day break in the litigation to allow them to consider the implications of the new state law. Johnson granted the request Monday.

The request states that the Fish and Wildlife Service recently granted the Northern Arapaho Tribe a new permit that runs from March 1 through next February. The new permit also bans taking eagles on the Wind River Reservation.

Gary Collins, Northern Arapaho tribal liaison to the state of Wyoming, said Monday that the tribe's Business Council was pleased the state Legislature passed the new state law. He had testified in favor of it before legislative committees.

"There's certainly enough reason to allow the taking of two eagles based on the recent legislation," Collins said. "And that might be enough of a support for the Fish and Wildlife Service to see that there's guidelines in the eagle issue. It's not open warfare or just blatant disregard for the animal portion, the eagle portion."

John Powell, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cheyenne, declined comment on the case on Monday. Efforts to reach an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Section were not successful.

The Eastern Shoshone Tribe has entered the lawsuit, arguing against allowing eagles to be killed on the tribes' joint reservation.

Kim Varilek, attorney general for the Eastern Shoshone, said Monday that the break in the litigation offers a reasonable opportunity for the Northern Arapaho Tribe to reach a possible solution.

Varilek said the Eastern Shoshone remain opposed to killing bald eagles for religious purposes, even outside the Wind River Indian Reservation.

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