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WA man to plead guilty in ‘killing spree’ of over 3,000 birds

  • Travis Brunson, of Cusick, Washington, reportedly plans to plead guilty to helping kill more than 3,000 birds and illegally selling the feathers.
  • Branson and his colleagues killed about 3,600 birds, including eagles, over a six-year period starting in 2015.
  • A second suspect in the scheme, Simon Paul, described as the “shooter” and “shipper” acting on Branson’s behalf, remains at large.

A Washington man accused of helping kill more than 3,000 birds, including eagles, on an Indian reservation in Montana faces illegal wildlife trafficking and other criminal charges for allegedly selling the feathers illegally. Court documents revealed that he intends to plead guilty.

Federal prosecutors say Travis John Brunson and his group killed about 3,600 birds in a year-long “murder spree” on the Flathead Indian Reservation and elsewhere. Eagle and other bird feathers are highly valued among many Native American tribes for use during sacred ceremonies and powwows.

Brunson, of Cusick, Washington, will plead guilty under an agreement with prosecutors to reduce charges, including conspiracy, wildlife trafficking and two counts of illegal trafficking of eagles, according to court documents. The court filing does not provide details on how many birds he admitted to killing.

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The second suspect, Simon Paul of St. Ignatius, Montana, remains at large after failing to show up for his first court appearance in early January and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Paul could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and his attorney, Dwight Schulte, declined to comment.

The defendants allegedly sold eagle parts on the black market, a long-standing problem for U.S. wildlife officials. According to a recent government study, illegal shooting is the leading cause of death for golden eagles.

An adult golden eagle circles overhead in a remote area of ​​Box Elder County, Utah, on May 20, 2021. (Spencer Heaps/Deseret News, via AP, File)

Immature golden eagle feathers are especially prized among tribes, and one of the The tails can be traded for hundreds of dollars each. How many years in prison?

A grand jury in December indicted the two on 15 criminal charges. The indictment says they worked with other officials, whose names authorities have not released, to hunt and kill birds and, on at least one occasion, used a dead deer to lure an eagle that was killed.

Federal officials did not say how many eagles were killed or what other bird species were involved in the scheme, but they say the scheme began in 2015 and lasted until 2021. . Defendants.

Brunson was released from custody after a Jan. 8 court appearance but did not immediately respond to a message left at his publicly available phone number. His lawyer, Assistant Secretary of Defense Andrew Nelson, declined to comment on his plea agreement.

According to the indictment, text messages obtained by investigators told buyers that Branson and others were “going on a killing spree” to collect more eagle tail feathers for future sale. It is shown. Prosecutors described Paul as Branson’s “shooter” and the eagle’s “transporter.”

The bald eagle is the national symbol of the United States, and both bald and golden eagles are widely considered sacred by American Indians. U.S. law prohibits killing, injuring, disturbing, or removing parts of eagles, including their nests and eggs, without permission. Even taking feathers found in the wild can be a crime.

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Federally recognized tribes can apply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to take bald and golden eagles for religious purposes, and members of registered tribes can take eagle feathers and other parts to the National Eagle Refuge. You can apply. But eagle researchers say a long backlog of requests is creating a black market for eagle parts.

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