The Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming is celebrating a recent federal government decision to let them capture or kill two bald eagles per year as part of a religious ceremony. The federal permit, which was granted March 9, was heavily debated, with animal rights activists questioning the necessity of killing bald eagles in the wild. In addition to being a beloved symbol of the U.S., the birds are a protected species.

Bald eagles were removed from the federal list of threatened species in 2007. The birds remain protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Several Indian tribes have been allowed permits to kill golden eagles for religious purposes.

The Fish and Wildlife said that they issued the permit in response to the tribe's application and not to a lawsuit the tribe had filed against them. As per an agreement with the Shosone Tribe who share the reservation, the bald eagles have to be captured off of reservation land.

Tribal elder Harvey Spoonhunter explained the use of the eagle, noting the long-standing tradition within the Northern Arapaho Tribe.

It has been since the beginning of time with us, and we respectfully utilize the eagle in our ceremonies. We get to utilize the eagle, which we consider a messenger to the Creator.

And in case you were worried about eagle safety, no other applications for capturing or killing bald eagles are currently being considered.

[Image via Shutterstock]