A Pair of Eagle Poachers in Montana Accused of Killing 3,600 Birds for Profit
A pair of eagle poachers in Montana, Simon Paul and Travis John Branson, are facing federal charges for allegedly killing roughly 3,600 birds, including federally protected golden and bald eagles, to sell their tails and wings on the black market. The indictment, handed up by the U.S. Department of Justice, accuses the two men of running a bird-killing scheme from about January 2015 until roughly March 2021, within the Flathead Indian Reservation in Lake County, Montana. If convicted, Branson faces up to 18 years in prison, while Paul potentially faces 15 years. Their arraignment is scheduled for January 8.
The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act
The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, enacted in 1940, was established to protect the bald eagle, which is recognized as the national symbol of the United States. In 1962, the act was amended to also protect golden eagles in addition to bald eagles. This law makes it illegal to harm, harass, or disturb eagles, as well as to possess, sell, purchase, or transport their parts or products.
Illegal Trafficking and Bragging
During the investigation, law enforcement uncovered messages sent by Branson, where he bragged about being on a “killing spree” and committing felonies. The court documents reveal that Branson and Paul knowingly and willfully conspired to illegally kill, transport, offer for sale, and sell bald and golden eagles. The pair allegedly sold the eagles on the black market for significant sums of cash across the United States and elsewhere.
Details of the Case
According to court documents, Branson, who traveled from Washington state to Montana, would act as the shooter, while Paul, who lived nearby, would handle the shipping of the operation. From April 2020 to March 2021, the two men sold or offered to sell numerous golden and bald eagle parts, including bald eagle wings, golden eagle tails, as well as entire birds. In one incident, they waited by a dead deer to lure in eagles, shooting and killing a golden eagle.
Legal Proceedings and Other Suspects
While Paul and Branson face charges, the indictment indicates that “others” were involved in the crimes, though no further details or suspects were listed at the time of publication. Their arraignment is set for January 8, and it remains to be seen whether they have retained attorneys who can speak on their behalf.
The heinous act of poaching thousands of birds, including federally protected eagles, for profit is a blatant violation of the law and a threat to the conservation of these majestic species. The allegations against Paul and Branson serve as a stark reminder of the importance of wildlife protection and the enforcement of laws aimed at preserving these iconic symbols of freedom.