Duo Poached Bald Eagles in ‘Killing Spree’ of 3,600 Birds: DOJ

Duo Poached Bald Eagles in ‘Killing Spree’ of 3,600 Birds: DOJ

A pair of eagle poachers in Montana killed roughly 3,600 birds to sell tails and wings on the black market, federal prosecutors alleged in an indictment last week.

In the indictment handed up in Montana by the U.S. Department of Justice, Simon Paul and Travis John Branson are accused of killing thousands of birds, including federally protected golden and bald eagles. One of the suspects even bragged about going on a “killing spree,” the court documents state.

Paul, 42, of St. Ignatius, Montana, and 48-year-old Branson, of Cusick, Washington, both face charges of one count of conspiracy and one count of trafficking wildlife. Branson is also charged with eight counts of unlawful trafficking of bald and golden eagles and Paul faces five counts on the same charge.

Branson faces up to 18 years in prison if convicted of all charges, with Paul potentially facing 15 years. Their arraignment is scheduled for January 8.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was enacted in 1940 to protect the bald eagle, “recognizing that the bald eagle is not merely a bird of biological interest, but this country’s national symbol, which reflects America’s ideals of freedom,” the court document states, noting that in 1962, Congress amended the measure to also protect golden eagles in addition to bald eagles.

It was unclear at the time of publication whether Paul or Branson had retained attorneys who could speak on their behalf.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana told Newsweek in an email on Monday night that the office “respectfully declines to comment about the indictment or case because it is a pending matter.”

During the investigation, law enforcement uncovered messages sent by Branson, saying that he was “[O]ut [here] committing felonies,” and another in which he told buyers of the fowl products that he was “on a killing spree,” according to the indictment.

Paul and Branson are accused of running the bird-killing scheme from about January 2015 until roughly March 2021, in Lake County, Montana, within the Flathead Indian Reservation, according to court documents, which say that they “knowingly and willfully conspired” to “illegally kill, transport, offer for sale, and sell bald and golden eagles.” The pair and “others” are accused of poaching eagles on the reservation and elsewhere, killing the thousands of birds. It’s unclear how many were federally protected bald or golden eagles.

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

While the indictment states that “others” were involved in the crimes, the court documents did not list details or identify any other suspects at the time of publication.

Paul, who lived in nearby Ronan, would act as the “shooter” and “shipper” of the operation while Branson would travel from Washington state to the Montana reservation “to shoot” the birds, the court documents say.

From April 2020 to March 2021, Branson and Paul sold or offered to sell numerous golden and bald eagle parts, including bald eagle wings, golden eagle tails, as well as entire bald and golden eagles, according to the court filings.

In a March 2021 incident noted in the court documents, Branson and Paul waited by a dead deer to lure in eagles when they shot and killed a golden eagle.

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This article by Maura Zurick was first published by Newsweek on 11 December 2023. Lead Image: A bald eagle on Saturday is perched at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida. A pair of eagle poachers in Montana killed about 3,600 birds in roughly six years and illegally sold tails and wings on the black market, federal prosecutors said. DOUGLAS P. DEFELICE/GETTY.

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