Two Men Face Federal Charges for Killing Bald Eagles

( – There are many animal species that are protected by legislation, making hunting or killing them illegal. The Bald Eagle, the nation’s emblem, is one that’s safeguarded by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. However, that didn’t stop two men from killing them and then turning around to sell them on the black market.

Court documents recently revealed that Travis John Branson of Washington, 48, and Simon Paul of Montana, 42, were indicted on several charges related to killing 3,600 birds, including the iconic Bald Eagle. The documents allege that between January 2015 and March 2021, the duo went to the Flathead Indian Reservation of Montana and other locations, where they shot and killed the feathered species. Not only did they reportedly sell the birds whole, but they also took them apart to sell tails and wings separately, prosecutors allege. Text messages from Branson allude to the fact that he was “committing felonies” and “on a killing spree,” per Axios.

Both of the men have been charged with 13 counts of unlawful tracking of golden and bald eagles, and one count each of conspiracy and violating the Lacey Act. The conspiracy charge has a penalty of up to five years in jail, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. The Lacey Act violations carry a $20,000 fine and five years in prison, while the trafficking charges can result in a $5,000 fine and one year in prison for the first conviction. Should they offend with that charge again, the penalties will double. Both Branson and Paul are due to be arraigned next month.

The demand for bald eagle parts, especially feathers, has grown in recent years, resulting in the creation of the black market, according to Bryan Bedrosian, who is a researcher with the Teton Raptor Center in Wyoming. It’s illegal to kill, wound, or disturb the birds or take any part of their nests, especially their eggs. It’s also illegal to take feathers that are found in the wild. Those who wish to hunt the birds must have a permit, and right now, according to Rich Janssen, the director of the tribes’ Natural Resources Department, there’s a backlog, which is exacerbating the problem.

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