Three Arrested in US for Illegally Trafficking in Eagle Feathers

Three Montana men were arrested and arraigned following the conclusion of “Operation Rolling Thunder,” a multi-year federal investigation into the illegal trafficking of eagle and migratory bird feathers and remains.

Arrested were William E. Hugs, SR., William E. Hugs, JR., and Ernie Lemuel Stewart, following the investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The three men were arraigned in federal court in Billings, Mt. on June 14, 2011, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn S. Ostby. If convicted, they face possible penalties of up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.  All three defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges.  

“The laws protecting eagles and migratory birds exist to ensure their long term survival. If the value of sustaining bird populations doesn’t dissuade people from illegal trafficking, then the fear of prosecution is the next best deterrent. We congratulate the law enforcement staff at FWS for providing that deterrent,” said ABC President George Fenwick.  

The investigation took place from March 2008 through February 2011, and focused on the unlawful trafficking in protected migratory birds, primarily Bald and Golden Eagles. The federal statutes violated include the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Lacey Act.  

“Bald and Golden Eagles face many threats in the United States, including unlawful killing fueled by the illegal trade in their parts,” said Steve Oberholtzer, Special Agent in Charge for FWS. “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. The defendants in this case are charged with killing and dismembering some of the nation’s most treasured raptors for mere monetary gain.


The kinds of fines being imposed in the USA together with long custodial sentences for crimes against such important iconic raptors sends a clear message to those criminals involved. It’s about time sentences for similar crimes in the UK were also increased because in our country clearly the present penalties are no deterrent.


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