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Feds sentence 12 for illegally trafficking birds

SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- Twelve people in South Dakota and Montana have been sentenced for trafficking federally protected migratory birds after a two-year investigation, federal officials announced Tuesday.

During the investigation that ran from March 2008 to February 2011, agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service documented 43 transactions of protected migratory birds, primarily bald and golden eagles.

Officials said bald and golden eagle carcasses were shipped across state lines using the U.S. Postal Service. Wire transfers to fund the transactions also occurred. Five of the defendants are from South Dakota and seven are from Montana.

The Associated Press report on the case did not identify the defendants by name.

The sentences range from probation to two years in prison.

"This investigation documented the unlawful killing and commercialization of eagles and hawks, an unlawful practice that in certain areas of our country is a significant threat to species that are a vital part of our natural heritage," Ed Grace, deputy chief for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a news release. "We hope the penalties in these cases serve as a deterrent to those engaged in this practice, and urge the public to help us put an end to it."

In October, the Department of Justice announced a policy to allow members of federal recognized Native American tribes to possess eagle feathers.