A two-year undercover probe into the killing and selling of protected bald eagles and other birds ended last Thursday as U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents fanned across three states, making arrests and searching businesses.
Federal agents posing as traders in Indian artifacts infiltrated a commercial trapping ring in hopes of wiping out the region’s illegal market for migratory bird parts.
They found whole eagles and hawks in addition to their wings, tails and bones were being sold in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said feathers were sold to make popular Indian-style crafts such as fans or Kachina dolls, which in turn were sold to trading posts, collectors, tourists and people participating in powwows.
“To the best of our understanding, none were being used for ceremonial or religious purposes; it was all commercial,” A.B. Wade, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department, said.
All nine people named in last week’s warrants are American Indians, Wade said. About two dozen businesses also were implicated.
Some of the dead eagles were offered for sale at prices ranging from $850 to $1,000 each, law enforcement agents said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said the popularity of Indian items made from migratory bird feathers has led to alarmingly high numbers of birds being killed for profit. Agents were told that at just one Indian pueblo during last year’s migration, more than 60 eagles were being shot or caught in leg traps baited with fresh meat.
The government said it ended the undercover operation to prevent more eagles from being killed during this season’s migration.