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15 indicted in SD for illegal trafficking of eagles, other birds

South Dakota U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler

RAPID CITY, S.D. — U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Randy Seiler has announced that 15 people have been indicted for illegal trafficking of eagles and other migratory birds following a two-year undercover operation.

The names of those indicted have not yet been released, but Seiler and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be holding a news conference at 2 p.m. Monday, April 24, at the Outdoor Campus in Rapid City to further discuss the operation.

The indictments will be unsealed that day, said Ace Crawford of the U.S. attorney's office.

Besides Seiler, those announcing the indictments will be Steve Oberholtzer, special agent in charge with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Kelderman of Rapid City and Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan Dilges of Pierre.

In a similar case several years ago in Montana, Oberholtzer was quoted as saying in a news story about the arrests, "Bald and Golden Eagles face many threats in our country, including unlawful killing fueled by the illegal trade in their parts. These magnificent animals are important to the American public for a variety of reasons, and we will investigate violations of the statutes that protect them to ensure they receive the protection they need to survive."

Some people have been charged, he said, simply for monetary gain.

Under federal law, American Indians alone in federally recognized tribes are allowed to own eagle feathers for use in their religious and cultural ceremonies.

The only legal supplier is the federal government, which operates an eagle cool-storage facility in a suburb of Denver, which is called the National Eagle Repository.

The repository operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can't keep up with demand from tribes, however. About 2,000 eagles each year are brought to the repository by federal wildlife agents or from other sources. Most of the eagles are victims of road traffic accidents, power lines or poachers.