Two men have been charged by federal prosecutors in Montana with illegally shooting about 3,600 birds, including bald and golden eagles, and selling them, as well as their wings and feathers, on the black market, Eduardo Medina reports for the New York Times. Simon Paul and Travis John Branson were each indicted on one count of conspiracy, 13 counts of unlawful trafficking of bald and golden eagles and one count of violating the Lacey Act, a federal law that prohibits the trafficking of illegally taken wildlife.
Prosecutors allege that from January 2015 to March 2021 the two men would venture out to the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana and engage in a “killing spree”, shooting down the eagles as they flew over the prairies there. One chart posted in court records shows that the men had sold at least one pair of bald eagle wings, four golden eagle tails and one whole golden eagle. If convicted on the conspiracy charge, they would each face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The case came as the bald eagle, whose resurgence is considered one of the greatest conservation stories of the 21st century, is now being threatened by repeated exposure to lead, the primary source of which being spent ammunition from hunters, who shoot animals that the eagles then scavenge.