Golden eagles that spent part of their lives in Wyoming might have been among 3,600 birds allegedly slaughtered by two Montana men during a multi-year killing spree.
Numerous golden eagles migrate south into Wyoming during the winter. That means it’s entirely possible that eagles with Wyoming roots were among those that officials say were killed in and around the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, Bryran Bedrosian, conservation director at the Teton Raptor Center, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.
“It’s incomprehensible. Those kinds of numbers of birds killed over that long of a period of time, that’s incomprehensible,” he said.
Raptors Killed For Black Market Sales
Simon Paul and Travis John Branson were indicted by a federal grand jury in Montana on Dec. 7. They each face possible prison sentences of up to five years and $250,000 fines based upon allegations that they killed thousands of birds, including golden and bald eagles, from January 2015 through March 2021.
They are accused of selling various parts of raptors and other birds on the black market, according to the indictment.
People poaching eagles to sell feathers, claws and other parts on the black market is an ongoing problem and a threat to golden eagle conservation, Bedrosian said.
But the sheer scale of the slaughter that Paul and Branson are accused of is unprecedented and could have caused grievous harm to the struggling golden eagle population, he said.
“We know that it (poaching) is a widespread phenomenon, but it’s surprising that just a couple of individuals could come in and have that big of an impact,” Bedrosian said.
Anne Brande, executive director of the Albany County Conservancy, has raised concerns about the toll taken on eagles by wind energy turbines.
So, the scale of the alleged killing in Montana could just make matters worse, she told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.
“It’s just horrific the number of birds that those two men were able to kill,” she said. “It’s overwhelming. They must have just gone out regularly and shot everything.”
Golden Eagles Struggle
Bald eagles are doing well in the U.S., but golden eagles are still struggling, so having poachers kill possibly thousands of them is a huge setback, Bedrosian said.
Brande agreed that the potential loss of golden eagles makes the alleged poaching case all that more egregious.
There are an estimated 40,000 or so golden eagles across the U.S., according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Most of those are in the West, an estimated 31,800 birds.
“We have some of the most pristine golden eagle habitat on the continent in Wyoming,” Brande said.
Hope For Harsh Punishment
If the men are found guilty, Brande and Bedrosian hope they face harsh consequences.
“I hope they throw the book at these … gentlemen,” Brande said.
Bedrosian said an example should be made of the case.
I hope they throw the book at them and it sets an example that this sort of illegal activity is just unacceptable,” he said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.