Four Arrested in Killings of Eagles and Other Protected Birds
Undercover Investigation Reveals Significant Black Market for Feathers and Other Bird Parts
WASHINGTON—Four men have been arrested by special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the result of an undercover investigation into the illegal killing and trade of bald and golden eagles and other protected birds, the Justice Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service announced today. The men are charged in four complaints with alleged violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Lacey Act.
Ricky Sam Wahchumwah of Granger, Wash., Alfred L. Hawk Jr. of White Swan, Wash., William Wahsise also of White Swan, and Reginald Dale Akeen also known as J.J. Lonelodge of Anadarko, Okla., were arrested.
The charging documents, unsealed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington and the District of Oregon, collectively allege that the individuals were involved in killing eagles and selling feathers and other bird parts in violation of the law.
According to an affidavit filed along with the complaints, special agents working undercover were able to document the sales of protected migratory bird parts. One complaint alleges that a single covert purchase from Hawk Jr. yielded a bald eagle tail, two golden eagle tails, one set of golden eagle wings, four red-shafted northern flicker tails, four rough-legged hawk tails and two northern harrier tails for a total of $3,000. According to the documents, Hawk, Jr. and Wahsise allegedly hunted and killed three bald eagles the morning of the sale by sitting near some wild horses killed to bait and attract eagles. A third complaint alleges that Wahchumwah sold one golden eagle tail in violation of the law. The sworn affidavit accompanying the complaint states that Wahchumwah sold the tail to an undercover special agent for $500.
A fourth complaint, filed in the District of Oregon, alleges that Akeen made several sales to an undercover agent, including two fans made from juvenile golden eagle feathers worth over $3,000.
Eagles and other protected migratory birds are viewed as sacred in many Native American cultures, and the feathers of the birds are central to religious and spiritual Native American customs. By law, enrolled members of federally-recognized Native American tribes are entitled to obtain permits to possess eagle parts for religious purposes but federal law strictly prohibits selling eagle parts under any circumstances. The Fish and Wildlife Service operates the National Eagle Repository, which collects eagles that die naturally or by accident, to supply enrolled members of federally recognized tribes with eagle parts for religious use. The Service has worked to increase the number of salvaged eagles sent to the Repository and make it easier to send birds to the facility by providing shipping materials at no charge. The Repository obtains eagles from state and federal agencies as well as zoos.
The charges and allegations contained in the complaints are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The maximum penalty for a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as charged, includes up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for a first time violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act includes one year in prison and $250,000 fine and the maximum penalty for a felony violation of the Lacey Act includes up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The arrests announced today are part of an on-going investigation into the illegal killing of bald and golden eagles and other protected birds and the sale of their feathers and parts. The agency is conducting the investigation with the help and cooperation of state, federal and tribal law enforcement agencies.
The cases are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the Eastern District of Washington, the District of Oregon and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.