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2 men are charged with killing 3,600 birds, including bald and golden eagles, to sell on the black market

by Lucas Garcia
1 comment
Wildlife Crime

Two individuals are facing serious charges for their involvement in a disturbing case involving the killing of approximately 3,600 birds, including bald and golden eagles. This unlawful act occurred across Montana’s Flathead Indian Reservation and other locations, and the perpetrators subsequently engaged in the illicit sale of eagle parts on the black market. This ongoing issue has raised significant concerns among U.S. wildlife officials.

According to a federal grand jury indictment, the two accused individuals, Simon Paul, aged 42 from St. Ignatius, Montana, and Travis John Branson, aged 48 from Cusick, Washington, collaborated with others to carry out these acts of hunting and killing birds. The indictment even mentions a disturbing incident where they used a deceased deer as bait to lure an eagle before shooting it. Moreover, they conspired with unnamed associates to profit from the sale of eagle feathers, tails, wings, and other parts, generating substantial sums of cash across the United States and beyond.

The indictment outlines 13 counts of unlawful trafficking of bald and golden eagles against the defendants, along with charges of conspiracy and violating wildlife trafficking laws. Text messages retrieved during the investigation revealed that Branson and his associates referred to their actions as a “killing spree,” indicating their intent to collect more eagle tail feathers for future illegal sales.

This series of illegal killings commenced in January 2015 and persisted until 2021 in the vicinity of Ronan, Montana, within the Flathead Reservation, which is home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Unfortunately, the indictment does not specify how many of the 3,600 birds killed were eagles.

Illegal shootings have been identified as a leading cause of golden eagle fatalities, as documented in a recent government study. The use of eagle feathers holds deep cultural and traditional significance, particularly among American Indian communities. Members of these tribes use eagle feathers for traditional dress and ceremonial purposes.

While tribal law enforcement was involved in the investigation of Paul and Branson, the reasons for the delay in bringing charges are not clear. It is worth noting that both bald and golden eagles are revered by American Indians, with U.S. law strictly prohibiting the killing, wounding, or disturbance of eagles, as well as the removal of nests or eggs. Even the possession of feathers found in the wild can result in criminal charges.

Federally recognized tribes can seek permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire bald or golden eagles for religious purposes, and enrolled tribal members can request eagle feathers and other parts from the National Eagle Repository. Unfortunately, there is a significant backlog of requests for these permits, which may contribute to the black market for eagle parts. Feathers from young golden eagles are particularly sought after, with waiting periods of up to five years to receive them from the repository.

Addressing these delays could potentially help reduce the illegal trade in eagle parts, as noted by eagle researchers. The region where these birds were allegedly shot is known for its high concentrations of eagles and other large raptors, making it a prime location for such illegal activities.

Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have not yet responded to inquiries regarding the permit backlog for tribes. Montana U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich’s office is prosecuting the case, and they declined to provide further comments beyond the information presented in the indictment.

Bald eagles, the national symbol of the United States, faced a significant decline last century due to factors such as the pesticide DDT. However, they have rebounded under federal protections and were removed from the endangered species list in 2007. Golden eagles, on the other hand, face greater challenges, with threats including shootings, energy development, lead poisoning, and other issues pushing the species towards decline. The U.S. currently has an estimated 346,000 bald eagles compared to approximately 40,000 golden eagles, which require larger habitats and are more susceptible to human-related problems.

This case serves as a stark reminder of the illegal activities that continue to threaten these majestic birds and the urgent need for enforcement and conservation efforts to protect them from harm.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Wildlife Crime

What were the charges against Simon Paul and Travis John Branson?

Simon Paul and Travis John Branson faced 13 counts of unlawful trafficking of bald and golden eagles, along with charges of conspiracy and violating wildlife trafficking laws.

How many birds, including eagles, were killed in this case?

Approximately 3,600 birds, including bald and golden eagles, were killed as part of this illegal operation.

What methods were used to hunt these birds?

The indictment mentions that the perpetrators used various methods, including the use of a dead deer to lure in eagles before shooting them.

Why is the illegal trade in eagle parts a concern?

The illegal trade in eagle parts is a significant concern because it poses a threat to these iconic birds and their populations. Eagles hold cultural and traditional importance, and their protection is vital for conservation efforts.

What is the significance of the Flathead Indian Reservation in this case?

The illegal killings occurred on Montana’s Flathead Indian Reservation, home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, who use eagle feathers for traditional dress and ceremonies.

How does the backlog of permit requests contribute to the black market for eagle parts?

The backlog of permit requests for acquiring eagle parts for religious purposes may be driving the illegal trade. Demand for feathers from young golden eagles is particularly high due to long waiting periods to receive them legally.

What actions can help reduce the illegal trade in eagle parts?

Addressing permit request delays and increasing enforcement efforts are essential steps to reduce the illegal trade in eagle parts and protect these birds.

What are the environmental implications of this case?

Illegal shootings are a leading cause of golden eagle deaths, and protecting these birds is crucial for maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance.

What are the legal protections for bald and golden eagles in the United States?

U.S. law strictly prohibits the killing, wounding, or disturbance of eagles, as well as the removal of nests or eggs. Only federally recognized tribes can apply for permits to acquire eagles for religious purposes.

What is the current status of bald and golden eagle populations in the U.S.?

Bald eagles have rebounded and were removed from the endangered species list in 2007, with an estimated population of 346,000 in the U.S. Golden eagle populations are less secure, with various threats pushing them towards decline.

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1 comment

SeriousReader December 15, 2023 - 7:23 pm

This article is v informative, shows how ppl do illegal stuff w eagles, bad stuff!

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