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HomeNewsMontana NewsTwo Montana Men Indicted for Killing and Trafficking of Eagles

Two Montana Men Indicted for Killing and Trafficking of Eagles

Two individuals, Simon Paul and Travis John Branson, have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Montana for allegedly illegally killing 3,600 birds, including bald and golden eagles, on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The charges include conspiracy, unlawful trafficking of eagles, and violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits trafficking in unlawfully taken wildlife.

According to the indictment, Branson was implicated through messages in which he boasted about killing eagles, claiming to be “on a killing spree” for eagle feathers and admitting to committing felonies. The alleged conspiracy between Paul and Branson to hunt and traffic the birds is said to have taken place between January 2015 and March 2021, centered near Ronan.

The indictment accuses the duo of hunting and killing thousands of birds on Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes lands, selling parts of eagles on the black market for significant sums of cash across the United States and beyond. The conspiracy involved Paul, who lived near Ronan, shooting and shipping eagles for Branson, who traveled from Washington state to the Flathead reservation.

Two instances highlighted in the indictment involve the illegal killing, communication about trafficking, and transportation of golden eagles, with evidence of transactions and movement of eagle parts to locations such as Texas. Branson is accused of possessing and selling bald and golden eagle parts on multiple occasions between April 2020 and March 2021, while Paul faces similar accusations for actions between December 2020 and March 2021.

The initial violations of the eagle trafficking statute carry a one-year prison term upon conviction, with subsequent violations carrying two-year penalties. Conspiracy and Lacey Act violation counts could result in five years in prison for each, along with significant fines.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana declined further comment on the case. Paul and Branson are set to appear in court in Missoula on January 8 for arraignments.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, enacted in 1940 and extended in 1962, aims to safeguard bald and golden eagles, their feathers, nests, and eggs. It prohibits killing, disturbing, or capturing these eagles without a permit, with criminal penalties for violations. Other acts also prohibit the take of protected migratory bird species.

In a similar case, a Hardin man, Harvey Hugs, was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay $70,000 in restitution for violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Hugs had been indicted in May 2022 and found guilty of three violations in February 2023 for killing 14 juvenile eagles and selling their feathers in South Dakota.

State law additionally prohibits killing or transporting any bird or its parts, except for game birds and certain exceptions, and allows for the use of eagle plumages in religious ceremonies by tribal members.

By: Montana Newsroom staff

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