Eagle Trafficking Ring Has Ties to Iowa

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MOUNT VERNON, Iowa -- “They can have collisions with wind turbines…a few die each year from led poisoning,” said Stephanie Shepherd, a Wildlife Diversity Biologist for Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Among the challenges eagles apparently face; being chopped up and having their parts sold illegally on the black market. At a news conference on Monday, the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota announced that 15 people had been indicted for the illegal trafficking of eagles and other migratory birds. The indictments are a result of a two-year undercover operation, dubbed Project Dakota Flyer.

“This is the first story…that I’ve heard of in the ten years I’ve been working with eagles in Iowa related to this kind of thing.” Among the indicted: 44 year-old Jorge Pena of Mount Vernon, Iowa. He's charged with violations of the Lacey Act, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and Migratory Bird Treaty Act. According to his indictment, authorities say, “Jorge Pena did knowingly import, export; transport, purchase, sell, receive, and acquire wildlife, that is bald and golden eagles and other migratory birds, knowing that said wildlife was taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of and in a manner unlawful under the laws of the United States…”

Authorities say the leader of the bird smuggling ring, 54-year-old Troy Fairbanks of Rapid City, South Dakota, operated a Native American dance company, and ran a side business as the so called “best feather man in the Midwest.”

And while what he and others are accused of doing is illegal, there is a right way to obtain what was allegedly being sold and traded on the black market, as Stephanie Shepherd explained: “The eagle parts have a process for which they are sent out to Native American tribes to use for spiritual purposes. That`s in the law books as well. They have to go to a depository run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and that`s the only way that tribes can access those parts, but they are dispersed legally that way.”