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Two men indicted for allegedly killing protected eagles and selling them on the black market

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Posted at 9:01 PM, Dec 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-14 21:01:50-05

(CNN) — Two men in Montana have been indicted after allegedly killing around 3,600 birds – including bald and golden eagles – and selling them on the black market.

Simon Paul and Travis John Branson were both indicted on December 7 on charges of conspiracy, unlawful trafficking of bald and golden eagles and violating the Lacey Act, according to the federal indictment filed in the US District Court in Montana.

The Lacey Act, first enacted in 1900, combats trafficking of illegally taken wildlife, fish or plants, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

CNN has been unable to determine if Paul and Branson have legal representation at this time.

They are accused of conspiring to “illegally kill, transport, offer for sale, and sell bald and golden eagles” between January 2015 and March 2021 on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Western Montana.

Branson traveled from Washington to Montana to shoot the birds, and Paul, who lived on the Flathead Indian Reservation, was described in the indictment as a “shooter” and “shipper” for Branson, according to the indictment.

Branson told buyers he was “on a killing spree” for eagle tail feathers for future sales, and, according to the indictment, a golden eagle tail set mailed to a buyer in Texas was among the items sold.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits anyone without a permit from “taking” bald or golden eagles or their parts, including feathers.

The bald eagle is no longer on the endangered species list, its population estimated at 316,700 as of 2019, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

“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.

Paul and Branson are expected to have their initial appearance in court on January 8.