Montana Poachers Face Prison Time & Hefty Fines For Killing, Selling 3,600 Eagles

Tagged bald eagles raise eaglets in bustling suburbia instead of open wilderness.

Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

In a shocking case detailed by the Daily Montanan, two men are facing potential prison sentences and fines of up to $250,000 for the illegal killing of thousands of birds in Montana.

Simon Paul and Travis John Branson, accused of unlawfully trafficking bald and golden eagles on the Flathead Indian Reservation from January 2015 to March 2021, are alleged to have sold the birds on the black market. 

The penalties that each man is facing include:

  • Five years of imprisonment
  • $250,000 fine
  • Three years of supervised release

The indictment reads: “During the investigation, law enforcement uncovered messages from Branson and others describing the illegal taking of eagles by stating, ‘(o)ut (here) committing felonies,’ and telling buyers he was ‘on a killing spree’ to obtain eagle tail feathers for future sales.”

Paul and Branson currently face one charge of conspiracy, carrying a penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Additionally, they face 13 counts of unlawful trafficking of bald and golden eagles, each punishable by one year in prison and a $15,000 fine, along with two years in prison and an additional $10,000 fine. There is also one count of violating the Lacey Act related to wildlife trafficking with a market value exceeding $350, which could result in another five years of imprisonment and an additional $20,000 fine.

“In total, the defendants killed approximately 3,600 birds, including eagles. The defendants then illegally sold the eagles on the black market for significant sums of cash across the United States and elsewhere.”

A bald eagle photographed in Montana.
A bald eagle photographed in Montana. PHOTO: Mike Hill / Getty Images / Courtesy of NBC News

The federal indictment details the trafficking of 13 bald and golden eagles.

From January 2019 until March 2021, Simon Paul lived near Ronan on the Flathead Indian Reservation, and he was a ‘shooter’ and ‘shipper’ of bald and golden eagles for Travis John Branson.

When Branson arrived on the Flathead Indian Reservation, Paul would meet and help kill, transport, and ship bald and golden eagles for future sales on the black market.”

The bald eagle “is not merely a bird of biological interest, but this country’s national symbol, which reflects America’s ideals of freedom,” according to the court papers.

RELATED: White Bald Eagle Spotted Camouflaged In Oklahoma

The gravity of their actions is reflected in the stringent legal consequences they may face for unlawfully targeting our nation’s sacred bird.

The defendants have not been arrested at this time, but they were issued summons to appear in court in Missoula on Jan. 8 for arraignments.

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