American man pleads guilty to ‘mass killing’ of eagles

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  • By Max Matza
  • BBC News, Seattle

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The bald eagle was once considered endangered in much of the United States, but it has made a comeback.

An American man accused of killing thousands of protected birds has pleaded guilty to conspiring to hunt and traffic bald and golden eagles.

Travis John Branson, 48, shot the birds for several years and sold their parts and feathers on the black market.

In text messages sent to a buyer, he bragged about “committing serious crimes” and “going on a killing spree.”

He faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced July 31 in federal court.

On Wednesday, Brandon, 48, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, illegal trafficking in bald and golden eagles and violations of a law prohibiting interstate trafficking in illegally possessed wildlife.

He faces fines of around $250,000 (£195,000).

Between 2015 and 2021, Branson would travel from his home in Washington state to western Montana to illegally hunt.

He worked with an accomplice, Simon Paul, to kill about 3,600 birds on the Flathead Indian Reservation and elsewhere, investigators say.

Paul, 42, is wanted on the same charges.

Branson was stopped in a traffic stop on March 13, 2021 when police found the talons and feathers of a golden eagle in his vehicle.

The bald eagle is the national bird of the United States and is depicted on both the currency and the national seal.

It was endangered in many places in the mid-20th century due to hunting, habitat loss and the use of DDT, an insecticide that prevents birds from laying eggs with strong shells. DDT was banned in 1972.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 1963 there were only 417 nesting pairs of bald eagles known to exist.

Conservation efforts led to a strong comeback and the bird is no longer considered endangered.

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