A hunter was ordered to pay a $750 fine for illegally possessing four golden eagle feathers found in his home during a 1994 search by federal officials.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers searched the Huntsville home of Patrick Hunsaker while investigating allegations he had illegally hunted coyotes from a helicopter over federal land, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Chaney said.Hunsaker, 46, pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor feather possession charge, and two hunting-related charges were dismissed. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball adopted the prosecution's suggested sentence on Wednesday, assessing the fine but imposing no jail time or probation.
With the prosecution concluded, the feathers likely will be shipped to the National Eagle Repository in Denver, Chaney said after Hunsaker's sentencing.
The center currently has a waiting list of 4,500 American Indians who have applied for permits to possess eagle feathers, parts or even entire eagles for use in religious ceremonies, said supervisor Bernadette Hilbourn.
Killing or possessing the birds or selling feathers or parts from bald or golden eagles has been illegal since 1940, unless the owner obtains a federal permit.
Museums, zoos, eagle rehabilitation centers, researchers or American Indians can apply for the permits, he said. Although rarely issued, permits also are available to kill bald or golden eagles that are preying on other wildlife or on ranchers' sheep, Chaney said.
Since the 1970s, eagles killed illegally or found dead from natural causes have been sent to the center by wildlife officials. The repository moved from Oregon to Colorado in 1995.
"The demand outweighs the source," Hilbourn said. "We need every eagle we can get."
Officials were looking for Hunsaker's hunting business records when they discovered the eagle feathers in an opaque bag, along with hawk and owl feathers, Chaney told Kimball.
Defense attorney Frank Warner said Hunsaker had removed the feathers from paintings his brother created in the 1970s. Aware of the hunting investigation and wary that the feathers may have come from an eagle, Hunsaker took them off the paintings and put them in the bag, Warner said.