Eagle Protection: Related Cases

Case namesort descending Citation Summary
U.S. v. Winddancer 435 F.Supp.2d 687 (M.D.Tenn., 2006)

This matter comes before the court on a Motion to Dismiss the Indictment filed by the defendant. The defendant, Ed Winddancer, was indicted on six counts relating to possessing and bartering eagle feathers and feathers plucked from other migratory birds. Winddancer did not have standing to challenge the manner in which the MBTA has been administered against him, because applying for a permit under the MBTA would not have been clearly futile. With regard to the BGEPA, the court found that defendant showed that the BGEPA substantially burdens his ability to possess eagle feathers. However, the court found that he did not show that his desire to possess the feathers arises from a sincere religious belief. Further, the court found that the government indeed has a compelling interest in protecting the bald and golden eagle, especially since there is no reasonable forensic method by which law enforcement can determine if a bird was accidentally or intentionally killed, killed a hundred years ago, or killed yesterday.

U.S. v. Zak 486 F.Supp.2d 208 (D.Mass., 2007)

Defendant pleaded guilty to three counts under the MBTA after agents determined that he killed 250 great blue herons; he then went to trial on the remaining counts under the MBTA and BGEPA related to his killing of a juvenile bald eagle on his commercial fish growing operation. On appeal, defendant contended that he cannot be found guilty under the MBTA unless the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew the bird he was shooting was protected and intentionally shot it with that knowledge (defendant stated that he shot a "big brown hawk'). The court disagreed, finding the overwhelming authority requires no such specific scienter on the part of the actor. With regard to defendant's contention that the government failed to prove the "knowingly" prong of the BGEPA, the court was equally unpersuaded. The evidence demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant knowingly shot the eagle as it sat perched on the dead pine tree on the edge of his property, regardless of whether he knew the juvenile bird was an eagle or, as he said, “a big brown hawk.”

United States v. Bramble 103 F.3d 1475 (9th Cir. 1996)

During a search related to a controlled substances violation, undercover agents seized eagle feathers from defendant.  The court held that Congress exercised valid Commerce Clause power in enacting the BGEPA, as the incentive of interstate commerce in eagle parts would threaten eagles to extinction, thus depleting the future commercial potential of activities such as eagle-based tourism and educational research.  For discussion on the Eagle Act and the Commerce Clause, see Detailed Discussion .

United States v. Hardman 260 F.3d 1199 (10th Cir. 2001)

This is an order vacating the opinions issued in Wilgus , Saenz , and Hardman .  The Tenth Circuit requested the attorneys in the above cases to brief the issues outlined by the court.  For further discussion regarding religious challenges to the BGEPA, see Detailed Discussion of Eagle Act .

United States v. Sandia 188 F.3d 1215 (10th Cir 1999)

This case was vacated by the Tenth Circuit in the Hardman order.  Defendant in this case sold golden eagle skins to undercover agents in New Mexico.  On appeal, defendant contended that the district court failed to consider the facts under a RFRA analysis.  The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding that defendant never claimed that his sale of eagle parts was for religious purposes and that the sale of eagle parts negates a claim of religious infringement on appeal.  For further discussion on religious challenges to the BGEPA, see Detailed Discussion.