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News / Life / Pets & Wildlife

Eastern Washington man to plead guilty to poaching thousands of birds, including Bald Eagles, in Montana

By Emma Epperly, The Spokesman-Review
Published: March 1, 2024, 7:48am

SPOKANE — A 48-year-old Pend Oreille County man is set to plead guilty next month to poaching thousands of birds, including Bald and Golden Eagles, in Montana.

Travis John Branson agreed to plead guilty to unlawful trafficking of Bald and Golden Eagles and conspiracy, among other charges.

Branson, of Cusick, Washington, and Simon Paul, 42, of St. Ignatius, Montana, were indicted in December in United States District Court in Montana. They were accused of poaching 3,600 birds on the Flathead Indian Reservation of Western Montana and selling their feathers and body parts on the black market.

The duo made “significant sums of cash” over the course of six years, the indictment alleged.

During the investigation, law enforcement found messages from Branson saying he was, “(O)ut (here) committing felonies” and telling his buyers he was “on a killing spree.”

The birds are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940, not merely for biological interest, but because they are a national symbol. In 1962, Congress extended the act to also protect golden eagles.

Paul did not show up for his arraignment, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He remains at large.

Dwight Schulte, Paul’s attorney, declined to comment when reached by phone Thursday.

Branson faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the four charges.

The 11 other charges against Branson were dropped as part of his plea agreement.