Montana Men Accused of Killing 3,600 Birds for Black Market

In Montana, a judge has issued an arrest warrant for Simon Paul, 42, after he failed to attend his arraignment. Paul is accused of killing around 3,600 birds, including bald and golden eagles, on the Flathead Indian Reservation. His alleged associate, 48-year-old Travis John Branson, is also implicated in what police describe as an avian “killing spree” aimed at selling eagle parts on the black market.

According to a December indictment, Paul and Branson are charged with hunting and killing numerous protected birds, with parts of the American national bird, such as feathers, tails, and wings, being illegally sold. The men reportedly used a deer carcass to attract and kill at least one wild eagle.

Both face 13 counts related to the unlawful trafficking of bald and golden eagles, along with charges of conspiracy and violating wildlife trafficking laws. The conspiracy charge alone carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of approximately $250,000 (about CAD$334,840), and three years of supervised release. Branson has pleaded not guilty.

Evidence in the case includes text messages between Branson and potential buyers, with Branson referring to himself and Paul as being on a “killing spree” and identifying Paul as the “shooter.” He also sent photos of severed golden eagle tails to a buyer and subsequently received a PayPal payment for them.

The exact number of eagles among the estimated 3,600 killed birds is currently unknown. The illegal activity reportedly took place not only on the Flathead Indian Reservation but also in other locations, beginning in 2015 and continuing through to 2021.

Under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, it is illegal in the U.S. to kill, possess, sell, purchase, or transport a bald or golden eagle, including their body parts, feathers, nests, and eggs. The Act safeguards both living and dead eagles. Certain Indigenous tribes can obtain permits for eagle feathers for religious purposes.

Although the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2007, a recent study from Boise State University found that illegal shootings are the leading cause of death for protected birds of prey, including bald and golden eagles, in several Western states.

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