Proposal would let Hopis kill eaglets

White House submits draft rule allowing use of `a few' in sacrificial rite

January 21, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Among a flood of last-minute actions by the Clinton administration late last week was a proposal to allow the Hopi Indians to gather hatchling golden eagles from nests at a national monument in Arizona for an ancient sacrificial ritual.

A draft rule allowing the practice, which is opposed by many animal protection and environmental groups, had been on hold for months while lawyers at the Department of the Interior weighed laws protecting Indian religious freedoms and those protecting parks and birds of prey.

The final draft was submitted Thursday and was to be published in the Federal Register this week, leading to 60 days of public comment.

Parks and Interior officials defended the rule yesterday, saying it would be limited to the case of Hopi Indians seeking at most a few eaglets at Wupatki National Monument, a region of mesas dotted with ruins left by the Hopis' ancestors.

Officials said it was the best solution to a thorny issue and was unlikely to be expanded.

But opponents, who feared that the proposed rule could lead to hunting in national parks by Indian tribes and perhaps eventually sport hunters, said they were prepared to challenge it in court, if it survived the transition to the Bush administration.

Some groups said any change in the use of national parks should come through Congress, not agencies.

Critics said that the rule implicitly threatened wildlife on national parkland and that this violated the Organic Act of 1916, which established the National Park Service and prohibited anything that would "impair" wildlife in parks.

"The very nature of the action impairs the resource, which is the eaglet," said Jeff Ruch, the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a private group tracking agencies' work in protecting the environment.

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