Did You Know: Possessing a Bald Eagle Feather Can Earn You Prison Time
A Homer man has found out the hard way that taking a feather from a bald eagle can land you in prison.
According to history.com, the bald eagle has been the national bird of the U.S.A. since it started appearing on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782. The white eagle was actually set to appear on the original design - remember, America declared itself indenpendent of Great Britain in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence. But, Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress, actually recommended to Congress the American bald eagle be used instead.
Interestingly, Benjamin Franklin - who was a part of the original committee picked by the Continental Congress to design the national seal - was not too fond of the bald eagle and called it “a bird of bad moral character.”
Here's an excerpt from a letter Franklin wrote to his daughter as pointed out by history.com:
'For my own part I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country.' The Founding Father argued that the eagle was 'a bird of bad moral character' that 'does not get his living honestly' because it steals food from the fishing hawk and is 'too lazy to fish for himself.'
As time went on and the design began appearing on official documents, currency, flags, public buildings and other government-related items, the bald eagle became an American icon, according to history.com.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries noticed 20-year-old Daniel Glenn Smith was photographed with a dead bald eagle and began to investigate. Once agents obtained a search warrant for Smith's vehicle, they say Smith admitted to killing the national bird of the United States.
The American bald eagle is a symbol of our American freedom and is an endangered species,” stated U.S. Attorney Brandon B. Brown. “This defendant did not
take this symbol seriously, nor the laws that prohibit anyone from killing or possessing even a feather of a bald eagle. These laws were created to protect our wildlife and we will continue to prosecute individuals who abuse those laws.
Now, according to fws.gov, Native American tribes are allowed to legally possess eagle feathers. Here's an excerpt from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service explaining the exception:
Native Americans may also legally possess eagle feathers and parts acquired through certain other means. Such items include any owned before eagles were first protected by Federal law (1940 for bald eagles, and 1962 for golden eagles) and feathers and parts passed down within a family or received as gifts from other Native Americans. Native Americans may wear feathers legally in their possession or make them into religious or cultural items for their own or tribal use. They may transfer feathers to tribal craftsmen to be fashioned into such objects; no money may be received for the feathers, but craftsmen may be compensated for their work. Native Americans may give feathers or other eagle items as gifts to other Native Americans and may hand them down within their families. They may not, however, give them to non-Native Americans.
As for Smith, this is not his first run-in with the law. He had previously been placed on probation and ordered not to possess a firearm for one year after he allegedly committed hunting violations involving other wildlife.
Smith has been sentenced to spend 30 days in prison, followed by 1 year probation, for the unlawful possession of a bald eagle feather.