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Two men charged with killing approximately 3,600 birds, including bald eagles

An American bald eagle flies over Mill Pond while carrying a newly caught fish on July 21, 2018 in Centerport, New York.
Bruce Bennett
/
Getty Images
An American bald eagle flies over Mill Pond while carrying a newly caught fish on July 21, 2018 in Centerport, New York.

Two men face federal charges for their part in hunting and killing about 3,600 birds, including bald eagles, in Montana.

Travis John Branson and Simon Paul allegedly sold the eagles on the black market for significant sums of cash, according to court documents.

According to the documents filed last week in U.S. Court for the District of Montana, prosecutors uncovered messages from Branson and others telling buyers he was "on a killing spree" of eagles in order to obtain tail feathers for future sales.

Between about January 2015 till March 2021, prosecutors said that the accused men knowingly and willfully agreed to shoot bald and golden eagles on the Flathead Indian Reservation and elsewhere, and then help each other transport and ship them out.

Branson and Paul are accused of one count of conspiracy, which has a penalty of five years of imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release.

They are also charged with unlawfully trafficking of bald and golden eagles and for violating the Lacey Act, a conservation law first enacted in 1900 which combats trafficking of illegally taken wildlife, fish, or plants.

They face five years in prison and a $20,000 fine on the Lacey Act charges and one year of prison and a $5,000 fine if convicted of trafficking and $10,000 and two years for a second and subsequent convictions.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was enacted in 1940 to protect the bald and golden eagles, and criminalizes anyone who takes, sells, hunts, or even offers to sell the eagles or any of their parts.

The indictment stated that the Act recognizes the bald eagle as "not merely a bird of biological interest, but this country's national symbol, which reflects America's ideals of freedom."

According to a study by Boise State University, Idaho from earlier this year, shootings are a leading cause of death for protected birds such as bald eagles and other birds of prey in the the states of Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Utah.

NPR reached out to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Montana but it declined to comment, as the case is pending. Online records did not identify attorneys for Paul and Branson.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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