June 22, 2024

Two men in the US have been charged with illegally killing about 3,600 birds over the course of several years and selling the parts and feathers on the black market.

A grand jury in Montana indicted Simon Paul and Travis Branson on charges of conspiracy, violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and illegal trafficking.

The two men allegedly killed the birds from January 2015 to March 2021, on or around the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana, according to federal prosecutors. The indictment alleges that the two men made “significant sums of cash” from selling the birds and their feathers, but did not specify how much.

Court records show the pair sold at least one pair of bald eagle wings, four golden eagle tails, and one whole golden eagle.

If convicted on all charges, Paul, 42, and Branson, 48, face up to 11 years in prison and fines of $275,000 each. They are scheduled to appear in court in January.

The Winterkeeper: a lifetime spent protecting the wilderness

Court records allege Branson would travel to Montana from out of state, where Paul acted as a “shooter” and “shipper” in the scheme. One tactic the pair used to lure eagles included using a previously killed deer.

“The defendants then illegally sold the eagles on the black market for significant sums of cash across the United States and elsewhere,” prosecutors said in court records.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act is a federal law enacted in 1940 that prohibits anyone from “taking” bald or golden eagles, including their parts, without a permit issued by the secretary of the interior.

The bald eagle is hailed as a success story of the US Endangered Species Act. The bird, which has been the national symbol of the US since 1782, saw population numbers plummet in the 1960s and 70s due to the effects of the pesticide DDT.

After DDT was banned and the bald eagle was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle recovered to the point where it was removed from the list in 2007.

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