COURTS & LEGAL

Man to plead guilty to helping kill 3,600 eagles, other birds and selling feathers prized by tribes

Feb 27, 2024, 1:23 PM

FILE - A young golden eagle is released above Rogers Pass by a wildlife biologist on Oct. 6, 2005, ...

FILE - A young golden eagle is released above Rogers Pass by a wildlife biologist on Oct. 6, 2005, near Lincoln, Mont. A Washington state man accused of helping kill more than 3,000 birds including eagles on a Montana Indian reservation then illegally selling their parts intends to plead guilty to federal criminal charges. (Michael Gallacher/The Missoulian via AP, File)

(Michael Gallacher/The Missoulian via AP, File)

SEATTLE (AP) — A Washington state man accused of helping kill more than 3,000 birds — including eagles on a Montana Indian reservation — then illegally selling their feathers intends to plead guilty to illegal wildlife trafficking and other criminal charges, court documents show.

Prosecutors have alleged Travis John Branson and others killed about 3,600 birds during a yearslong “killing spree” on the Flathead Indian Reservation and elsewhere. Feathers from eagles and other birds are highly prized among many Native American tribes for use in sacred ceremonies and during pow-wows.

Branson of Cusick, Washington, will plead guilty under an agreement with prosecutors to reduced charges including conspiracy, wildlife trafficking and two counts of unlawful trafficking of eagles.

A second suspect, Simon Paul of St. Ignatius, Montana, remains at large after an arrest warrant was issued when he failed to show up for an initial court appearance in early January. Paul could not be reached for comment and his attorney, Dwight Schulte, declined comment.

The defendants allegedly sold eagle parts on a black market that has been a long-running problem for U.S. wildlife officials. Illegal shootings are a leading cause of golden eagle deaths, according to a recent government study.

Immature golden eagle feathers are especially valued among tribes, and a tail set from one of the birds can sell for several hundred dollars apiece, according to details disclosed during a separate trafficking case in South Dakota last year in which a Montana man was sentenced to three years in prison.

A December indictment

A grand jury in December indicted the two men on 15 federal charges. They worked with others — who haven’t been named by authorities — to hunt and kill the birds and on at least one occasion used a dead deer to lure in an eagle that was killed, according to the indictment.

Federal officials have not said how many eagles were killed nor what other kinds of birds were involved in the scheme that they say began in 2015 and continued until 2021. The indictment included details on only 13 eagles and eagle parts that were sold.

Branson did not immediately respond to a message left at a phone number that’s listed for him. His attorney, Assistant Federal Defender Andrew Nelson, declined to comment on the plea agreement.

Text messages obtained by investigators showed Branson and others telling buyers he was “on a killing spree” to collect more eagle tail feathers for future sales, according to the indictment. Prosecutors described Paul as a “shooter” and “shipper” for Branson.

Bald eagles are the national symbol of the United States, and both bald and golden eagles are widely considered sacred by American Indians. U.S. law prohibits anyone without a permit from killing, wounding or disturbing eagles or taking any parts such as nests or eggs. Even taking feathers found in the wild can be a crime.

Federally recognized tribes can apply for permits with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take a bald or golden eagle for religious purposes, and enrolled tribal members can apply for eagle feathers and other parts from the National Eagle Repository. But there’s a lengthy backlog of requests that eagle researchers say is driving the black market for eagle parts.

KSL 5 TV Live

Courts & Legal

Texts shown during Chad Daybell's jury trial show he and Lori Daybell planned to be together in Haw...

Emily Ashcraft, KSL.com

Texts show Chad and Lori Daybell’s relationship days after her husband’s death

Jurors for Chad Daybell's trial heard testimony on Friday about Lori Daybell's texts from an FBI agent, along with the end of testimony from Lori Daybell's friend, Melanie Gibb.

2 days ago

Crime scene tape. (Getty Images)...

Associated Press

Police to review security outside courthouse hosting Trump’s trial after man sets himself on fire

Police officials say they are reviewing whether to restrict access to a public park outside the courthouse where former President Donald Trump is on trial after a man set himself on fire there.

2 days ago

FILE - Rays of sunlight pierce through the clouds Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, above homes burned by wi...

Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, Associated Press

Hawaii Supreme Court chides state’s legal moves on water after deadly Maui wildfire

The Hawaii Supreme Court says the state attorney general's office must pay attorney fees for using last year's Maui wildfire tragedy to file a petition in “bad faith” that blamed a state court judge for a lack of water for firefighting.

3 days ago

Chad Daybell stands next to his attorney, John Prior, during his murder trial in Boise on Wednesday...

Emily Ashcraft, KSL.com

Chad and Lori Daybell used ‘castings’ to pray for spouses’ deaths, ex-friend testifies

An ex-friend of Lori Daybell testified Thursday that Chad and Lori Daybell prayed for evil spirits to leave their spouses, which if successful would mean the person would die.

3 days ago

FILE - New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks Feb. 16, 2024, in New York. Donald Trump coul...

Philp Marcelo, Associated Press

New York man pleads guilty to sending threats to state attorney general and Trump civil case judge

A New York man has pleaded guilty to sending death threats to the state attorney general and the Manhattan judge that presided over former President Donald Trump’s civil fraud suit.

3 days ago

FILE - Celina Washburn protests outside the Arizona Capitol to voice her dissent for an abortion ru...

Arit John and Cheri Mossburg, CNN

Lawmakers vote against hearing Arizona bill repealing abortion ban on House floor

The Republican-controlled Arizona House of Representatives once again failed to advance a repeal of the state’s 160-year-old abortion ban Wednesday

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Man to plead guilty to helping kill 3,600 eagles, other birds and selling feathers prized by tribes