Arrest Warrant Issued for Montana Man Accused of Killing Thousands of Birds, Including Bald Eagles

By: Lauren | Published: Jan 25, 2024

Simon Paul recently missed his court appearance after being charged for killing more than 3,600 protected birds, and now, there is a warrant out for his arrest.

Paul and his co-conspirator, Travis John Branson, have been accused of hunting, killing, and selling thousands of birds on the black market, including dozens of bald eagles that are protected under the Bald Eagle Protection Act.

Two Men Have Been Charged with 3,600 Counts of Killing Protected Birds

On Dec. 7, 2023, an indictment was filed that reported Paul and Branson illegally shot and sold dozens of bald eagles and 3,600 protected birds in total from 2015 to 2021.

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American bald eagles in a nest made of large sticks

Source: Getty Images

Court documents reported that Branson told a source he went on a “killing spree” and made “significant sums of cash” from selling the dead birds.

PayPal Records Show the Two Receiving Payments

As well as direct quotes from the defendants, the court documents contain a PayPal transaction in which Branson was paid directly just after sending a photo of a dead golden eagle.

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Smartphone with the PayPal app logo on the screen in front of several international credit cards

Source: S3studio/Getty Images

According to the records, Branson sent the photo, received a partial payment, shipped the bird to Texas, and then received the rest of the payment, again via PayPal.

Protected Birds Were Hunted on a Montana Reservation

It seems that Paul and Branson consistently visited the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana over the course of six years in order to hunt eagles and other birds.

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View of the vast Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana

Source: Wikipedia

The beautiful reservation is the perfect undisturbed habitat for birds; in fact, there are more than 277 species that live there permanently, including the golden and bald eagle.

How Did They Catch So Many Birds?

Hunting birds in the large reservation was challenging, but not impossible. And Paul and Branson had a very specific tactic that they used to entrap their prey.

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Bald eagle over water

Source: Canva

As the eagles and many of the other birds they were looking for are predatory, the two men would lay dead deer on the ground and wait in the brush until the birds came to feed. From there, all they had to do was shoot.

Paul and Branson Broke Several Laws

It’s important to understand that Paul and Brason broke a wide variety of laws over the course of their six-year “killing spree.”

Several cages of birds being trafficked and sold illegally

Source: iStock

By selling the birds they killed, both men violated the Lacey Act, which completely bans the trafficking of wildlife, as well as fish and plants.

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Understanding Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was enacted in 1940, and it clearly prohibits anyone “without a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior, from ‘taking’ bald or golden eagles, including their parts (including feathers), nests, or eggs.“

Bald eagle is released during an event marking the removal of the bald eagle from the endangered species list June 28, 2007

Source: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The act also clearly states that “criminal penalties” such as a “fine of $100,000” and “imprisonment for one year” are both applicable for a first-time offense. Additional offenses are considered felonies.

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The Bald Eagle Is the National Symbol of the United States

The main reason why hunting and selling bald eagles was made illegal is because the bird is the national symbol for the United States and has been since shortly after the country’s inception in 1792.

Illustration of the American flag with the head of a bald eagle

Source: Shutterstock

But it’s also because the majestic bird has been on the endangered species list for decades. In fact, it wasn’t until 2007 that they were promoted from endangered to threatened.

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How Many Eagles Live in the United States of America?

In 1963, there were only 834 bald eagles in the entirety of the continental USA. That was the lowest point in history, and the government immediately took action to prosecute violations of the Protection Act.

Beautiful natural scenery in Montana

Source: Wikipedia

Fortunately, the law did what it set out to do, and as of 2023, there are an estimated 316,700 bald eagles living in the United States.

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Bald Eagles Are Essential for a Functioning Ecosystem

It’s important to understand that bald eagles aren’t only protected because they are the country’s national symbol.

Close up photograph of a bald eagle

Source: Galen Rowell/Corbis/Getty Images

These predatory birds are also essential for keeping animal populations strong by feeding on the older animals, as well as cleaning up any natural wildlife deaths.

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The Two Men Await Their Next Court Hearing

Because of all of these reasons, Paul and Branson’s crimes against bald eagles and other protected animals are being addressed with care and concern by the local government in Montana.

Montana Magistrate Judge Kathleen L. DeSoto assigned to Simon Paul and Travis Branson’s case

Source: StateBarOfMontana/Facebook

So when Paul didn’t appear for his most recent hearing, Magistrate Judge Kathleen L. DeSoto issued an immediate arrest warrant for the defendant.

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What Will Happen to Simon Paul and Travis Branson?

Once he has been apprehended, Paul will stand trial with his cohort Branson, and the jury will decide first if they are guilty on all counts. Then, the judge will set the sentencing for both men.

Man in jail holds handcuffed hands through the bars

Source: Freepik

As the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act clearly states, just one offense can lead to one year in jail and a $100,000 fine, so for these two who have killed dozens of eagles and thousands of other protected birds, it’s likely that they will spend quite a few years behind bars.

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