Men charged with illegal killing of 3,600 birds, including bald and golden eagles to sell

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MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A federal grand jury in Montana has indicted two men accused of killing about 3,600 birds, including bald eagles and golden eagles, and selling them on the black market.

The indictment returned in U.S. District Court last week charges Simon Paul and Travis John Branson with 13 counts of unlawful trafficking of bald and golden eagles and one count each of conspiracy and violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits trafficking of illegally taken wildlife.

“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 indictment states. The act was extended in 1962 to include golden eagles.

Branson, Paul and others hunted and killed thousands of birds, including eagles, on the Flathead Indian Reservation and elsewhere, then illegally sold them for significant sums of cash across the United States and elsewhere, the indictment states.

Investigators found messages from Branson and others describing the illegal taking of eagles, saying he was “committing felonies” and telling buyers he was “on a killing spree” to collect more eagle tail feathers for future sales, according to the indictment.

The indictment alleges that Paul and Branson conspired to kill and sell the eagles illegally near Ronan, Montana, from 2015 and 2021. From 2019 and 2021, Branson traveled from Washington state to the reservation to shoot the eagles, and Paul, who lived near the reservation, was a shooter and shipper for Branson.

“When Branson arrived on the Flathead Indian Reservation, Paul would meet and help kill, transport, and ship bald and golden eagles for future sales on the black market,” the indictment states.

Paul and Branson were issued summons to appear for arraignments on Jan. 8.

Court documents do not list attorneys for Paul or Branson.

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