Two Montana men were indicted earlier this month for poaching bald and golden eagles. The indictment, recently published by the Daily Montanan, was filed on December 7 against Simon Paul and Travis John Branson. Both men are accused of participating in an illegal game operation that trafficked eagle carcasses and body parts on the black market.
“From January 2019 until March 2021, Simon Paul lived near Ronan on the Flathead Indian Reservation, he was a ‘shooter’ and ‘shipper’ of bald and golden eagles for Travis John Branson,” the indictment reads. “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 indictment details the sale of 13 birds or bird body parts of both bald and golden eagles. It states that the pair killed 3,600 birds in total. If convicted of their crimes, the men will be in violation of the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
The men are charged with one count of conspiracy, 13 counts of illegally trafficking the eagles, and one violation of the Lacey Act. If convicted, they could face up to 35 years in federal prison and tens of thousands of dollars in fines.
The evidence provided in the indictment is significant. It includes a record of a Paypal transaction placed for a shipment of golden eagle feathers. Law enforcement also uncovered messages from Branson detailing his illegal acts. “[O]ut [here] committing felonies,” one message reads. In another message, Bronson described his own actions as a “killing spree.”
If you witness or know of wildlife crime, report it to officials. “[W]ildlife crime is far more domestic than you may realize,” says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). “It can happen in your local parks, wildlife refuges and even on your own land. Many of our law enforcement investigations are solved because people who see unlawful activities reach out to us or their local game warden.” To report a wildlife related crime like poaching, send in a tip to law enforcement online or call the USFWS tip line at 1-844-FWS-TIPS.