Feather laws and confiscations

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    • #131805

      Hi all,

      This is a pretty sensitive topic and I don’t want to air all my institution’s dirty laundry (hence the alternate account). But we have an interesting situation with bird of prey feathers and I was wondering if anyone else has had to deal with this (or if you know anyone who’s dealt with it) and how you/they went about it.

      The short version: We had a bunch of bird of prey feathers confiscated a few years ago. A volunteer (we are an all-volunteer museum) who was unfortunately unqualified to be handling permits had been submitting our salvage permits for years, many years before I even got to the museum. For some reason a few years ago, our permit was denied and we had almost all our feathers confiscated (still working on figuring out what changed that caused the denial).

      They don’t seem too eager to fine us, partly because we made a bona fide effort to submit the permit and also because we were using the feathers for educational purposes (not selling them). But this was all a big misunderstanding, and it’s now my job to try to clean up this mess.

      Bottom line: Has anyone else had to deal with a confiscation? If so, were you ever able to get your record cleared with a small fine or no fine at all? Who did you approach (either within your local game commission or the feds) to get the process rolling?

      I know it’s a long shot but I’m really in need of advice here.

    • #131809
      Ron Kley

      Hi Clair —

      I claim no experience with predator feathers or confiscation procedures, but would offer a few thoughts in regard to the general challenge of dealing with any bureaucracy in matters concerning the interpretation or enforcement of codes, regulations, etc.

      Try to arrange a face-to-face meeting with an agency representative — preferably someone at a decision-making level and not merely a person behind a reception desk.

      Present your case as objectively and factually as you can, and with as much supportive documentation as possible. Avoid getting into an argumentative mode which will only trigger defensiveness on the part of the individual you’re dealing with.

      Ask about what, if any, channels and procedures exist to make amends for whatever action or inaction on the part of your institution or its representative(s) may have led to the confiscation, or about channels and procedures for appealing the bureaucratic decision to confiscate.

      Assuming that you’re dealing with a state or federal agency (or maybe some of each), get in touch with your legislative or congressional representative and ask how best to proceed. That person may be able to refer you to a colleague who sits on the legislative committee charged with oversight of the very agency you need to deal with. Such an individual should have a detailed knowledge of the ins and outs of pertinent laws/mandates/regulations/codes, etc., and whether there may be some procedural “workaround” option. A letter or phone call of support from such an individual to an agency administrator can sometimes work wonders.

      Although I can’t speak to the specifics of your situation, I’ve have had numerous occasions to deal with bureaucratic organizations at various levels, and have found these approaches to be helpful in most instances.

      GOOD LUCK!

    • #131808
      Janice Klein

      Hi Claire,

      Dealing with endangered species is very difficult for those of us working in museums for a number of reasons, not the least because the regulations were not written with us in mind and our needs (i.e., having objects made with part of endangered species) really don’t fit many of the laws’ options.

      First, “birds of prey” are covered by several different laws. Eagles (bald and golden) are covered by one law and set of regulations, which are the most restrictive of any of the rules we need to follow. At this point if you do not already have a permit to “hold” eagles (or any of their parts) it is unlikely that you will be able to get one (that was a Presidential order back in the 1990s). The other species are covered by the Migratory Bird Act and the Endangered Species Act. These do allow for museums (as educational institutions) to legally have these birds (or their parts) in their collections.

      Having said that, the main question is what outcome you are looking for. Do you want to have the confiscated feathers returned? Do you want to be able to have regulated bird feathers (or other parts) in your collection? Or do you “just” want to make sure that no further action will be taken against the museum other than the confiscation?

      If it’s the last, then you need to work with the agent who confiscated the feathers. I don’t think the museum can get its record cleared, but you can probably get a final resolution that says it made a mistake, the feathers have been confiscated and there will no further action against the museum. I have a colleague who has gone through a customs confiscation (also cleaning up a predecessor’s mistake) and I will check with him to see how that was resolved.

      If you do want to continue to have regulated feathers in the museum’s collection you will need to do research on the individual species, the date they were listed as endangered species and when the bird in question was killed (usually dated by the age of the object it’s part of). And that’s a whole ‘nother conversation.


      Janice Klein
      Executive Director
      Museum Association of Arizona

    • #131807

      Thank you so much for your replies, Ron and Janice.

      At this point, we are planning to work with one of our contacts in our local game commission and with the agent who confiscated the feathers. Ron, I think you’re absolutely right that a face-to-face, non-argumentative meeting will be most effective. Trying to find out the best person to arrange that meeting with is a bit of a challenge for us right now, but hopefully our contact will help us out.

      Janice, thanks for the information. I didn’t realize eagle feathers were treated differently from other bird of prey feathers–that is potentially relevant to our situation. It sounds like we probably won’t be able to get our eagle feathers back. At this point, our first priority is to clear our record/resolve the issue. Any advice from the colleague who’s gone through the customs confiscation would be fantastic–I’m really just wondering at this point what kind of bureaucratic nightmare I should expect when trying to resolve this.

      Thanks again, and any other advice from anyone else is also appreciated!


    • #131806
      Ron Kley

      A few further thoughts –
      Janice has correctly pointed out that you may (probably will) be dealing with a number of different authorities at both the state and federal levels, and it will be important to figure out which authority has jurisdiction over which confiscated items. (The authorities and their designated spokespersons may not be entirely “on the same page” about this, which can further complicate things.)
      Your initial meetings with authority representatives should focus on information gathering and careful note-taking. What exactly was (or wasn’t) done by your organization that constituted a violation of exactly what state or federal statute/mandate/regulation/protocol/requirement? What should have been done (or not done) when, how, and by whom? Is there a procedure or protocol whereby the institution can be allowed to collect/receive/maintain/utilize program-appropriate feathers in the future? And, of course, is there a procedure or protocol by which any or all of the confiscated material might be restored to the institution for approved educational use?
      With luck, you’ll get straight answers – or perhaps referrals to others who can provide those answers, and the gathered information will give you a better idea as to how or if it may be worthwhile to pursue the matter any further. There are many ways in which bureaucratic decisions can be reversed or circumvented in the interest of common sense – but it’s not necessarily worth the investment of time and energy.

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