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Know the West

Sting nets bird killers

  In today's booming black market for migratory bird parts, a single bald eagle feather can fetch $100. Given such prices, it's not surprising that a two-year U.S. Fish and Wildlife sting operation netted 35 individuals and businesses allegedly involved in the killing and selling of protected migratory birds in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.

The stiffest charges are against five Jemez Pueblo men from northern New Mexico and three Navajo Indians from Arizona for using traps to kill protected eagles. If convicted, they could spend up to five years in prison and pay $100,000 to $250,000 in fines.

"The individuals in this particular case were not killing eagles for religious or ceremonial purposes," says U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Anne-Berry Wade. "It was purely commercial."

The illegal feathers are used to make popular items, such as fans and kachina dolls, which are sold through the black market to trading posts, collectors and tourists.

Wildlife officials said they ended the operation early, blowing their cover in order to make arrests just before this winter's migratory season. During last winter's migration, 60 eagles were either shot or trapped in one pueblo alone, officials said.

Bird parts seized in this case will go to the Wildlife Service's National Eagle Repository near Denver, where they are made available by permit to Native Americans for recognized religious and cultural purposes.

* Sarah Dry