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Man accused of helping kill more than 3,000 birds, including eagles, to plead guilty

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A man accused of helping kill more than 3,000 birds, including eagles, plans to plead guilty, according to court documents.

Prosecutors say Travis John Branson and others killed about 3,600 birds during a years-long killing spree on Montana’s Flathead Indian Reservation and elsewhere.

According to official documents, Branson, of Cusick, Washington, will likely admit to wildlife trafficking and other criminal charges.

He will plead guilty under an agreement with prosecutors to reduced charges, including conspiracy, wildlife trafficking and two counts of illegal eagle trafficking.

According to the indictment, text messages obtained by investigators showed Branson and others telling shoppers he was “on a killing spree.”

The intention was allegedly to collect eagle tail feathers for future sales.

A second suspect, Simon Paul, from St. Ignatius, Montana, failed to appear for his first court appearance in early January and remains at large.

Prosecutors described Paul as a “shooter” and “shipper” for Branson.

Paul’s attorney, Dwight Schulte, declined to comment.

Branson did not respond to a message, while his attorney declined to comment on the plea deal.

The defendants allegedly sold eagle parts on the black market.

U.S. law prohibits anyone without a license from killing, injuring or disturbing eagles or taking parts such as nests or eggs.

But a large number of golden eagle deaths are due to illegal shooting, according to a U.S. government study.

The feathers of eagles and other birds are highly prized by many Native American tribes and are used in sacred ceremonies and at powwows.

According to details disclosed in another South Dakota trafficking case last year, immature golden eagle feathers are particularly valued among tribes.

A tail from one of the birds can sell for several hundred dollars.

In this trafficking case, a Montana man was sentenced to three years in prison.

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