Two Men Kill 3,600 Birds, Including Bald Eagles, for “Significant Sums of Cash”

Simon Paul and Travis Branson face up to 11 years in prison and fines of $275,000 each.

A bald eagle soars in the sky.

Scott Serio/Zuma

This story was originally published by the Guardian and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. 

Two men in the US have been charged with illegally killing about 3,600 birds over the course of several years and selling the parts and feathers on the black market.

A grand jury in Montana indicted Simon Paul and Travis Branson on charges of conspiracy, violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and illegal trafficking.

The two men allegedly killed the birds from January 2015 to March 2021, on or around the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana, according to federal prosecutors. The indictment alleges that the two men made “significant sums of cash” from selling the birds and their feathers, but did not specify how much.

Court records show the pair sold at least one pair of bald eagle wings, four golden eagle tails, and one whole golden eagle.

If convicted on all charges, Paul, 42, and Branson, 48, face up to 11 years in prison and fines of $275,000 each. They are scheduled to appear in court in January.

Court records allege Branson would travel to Montana from out of state, where Paul acted as a “shooter” and “shipper” in the scheme. One tactic the pair used to lure eagles included using a previously killed deer.

“The defendants then illegally sold the eagles on the black market for significant sums of cash across the United States and elsewhere,” prosecutors said in court records.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act is a federal law enacted in 1940 that prohibits anyone from “taking” bald or golden eagles, including their parts, without a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior.

The bald eagle is hailed as a success story of the US Endangered Species Act. The bird, which has been the national symbol of the US since 1782, saw population numbers plummet in the 1960s and 70s due to the effects of the pesticide DDT.

After DDT was banned and the bald eagle was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle recovered to the point where it was removed from the list in 2007.

More Mother Jones reporting on Climate Desk

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

We’re falling behind our online fundraising goals and we can’t sustain coming up short on donations month after month. Perhaps you’ve heard? It is impossibly hard in the news business right now, with layoffs intensifying and fancy new startups and funding going kaput.

The crisis facing journalism and democracy isn’t going away anytime soon. And neither is Mother Jones, our readers, or our unique way of doing in-depth reporting that exists to bring about change.

Which is exactly why, despite the challenges we face, we just took a big gulp and joined forces with The Center for Investigative Reporting, a team of ace journalists who create the amazing podcast and public radio show Reveal.

If you can part with even just a few bucks, please help us pick up the pace of donations. We simply can’t afford to keep falling behind on our fundraising targets month after month.

Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery said it well to our team recently, and that team 100 percent includes readers like you who make it all possible: “This is a year to prove that we can pull off this merger, grow our audiences and impact, attract more funding and keep growing. More broadly, it’s a year when the very future of both journalism and democracy is on the line. We have to go for every important story, every reader/listener/viewer, and leave it all on the field. I’m very proud of all the hard work that’s gotten us to this moment, and confident that we can meet it.”

Let’s do this. If you can right now, please support Mother Jones and investigative journalism with an urgently needed donation today.

payment methods

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

We’re falling behind our online fundraising goals and we can’t sustain coming up short on donations month after month. Perhaps you’ve heard? It is impossibly hard in the news business right now, with layoffs intensifying and fancy new startups and funding going kaput.

The crisis facing journalism and democracy isn’t going away anytime soon. And neither is Mother Jones, our readers, or our unique way of doing in-depth reporting that exists to bring about change.

Which is exactly why, despite the challenges we face, we just took a big gulp and joined forces with The Center for Investigative Reporting, a team of ace journalists who create the amazing podcast and public radio show Reveal.

If you can part with even just a few bucks, please help us pick up the pace of donations. We simply can’t afford to keep falling behind on our fundraising targets month after month.

Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery said it well to our team recently, and that team 100 percent includes readers like you who make it all possible: “This is a year to prove that we can pull off this merger, grow our audiences and impact, attract more funding and keep growing. More broadly, it’s a year when the very future of both journalism and democracy is on the line. We have to go for every important story, every reader/listener/viewer, and leave it all on the field. I’m very proud of all the hard work that’s gotten us to this moment, and confident that we can meet it.”

Let’s do this. If you can right now, please support Mother Jones and investigative journalism with an urgently needed donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate