A bald eagle was lying on the ground, each leg shut inside traps. When Juneau resident Kathleen Adair came across it scouting a trail for a group hike, the eagle was alive and looking at her. She spent an hour freeing it.
On Dec. 24, Kathleen Adair was on Davies Creek Trail when she saw the eagle in her path. She’s familiar with the Juneau Raptor Center and knew the bird rescue nonprofit would be concerned, so she took photos of what she saw and recorded the GPS coordinates.
“I wanted to go back and tell the Raptor Center where it was. I knew that would be the best thing to do, but I also knew that it would be getting dark soon. It was 2 miles from the road and it was all the way at the end of the road, so I knew that they wouldn’t be able to get out there that day to it,” Adair says.
So she took the matter into her own hands. Before untangling the eagle from what she describes as two large long spring traps, she noticed a smaller trap on the other side of the trail. Out of concern for the three dogs with her, she sprang it. She then tied the dogs up so she could deal with the eagle.
Adair says the eagle’s legs were wrapped up in the trap chains. Before she did anything, she covered the eagle’s head to keep it docile, something she’s learned from her time around raptors. She says it took an hour to get the eagle out of two traps.
“I knew at the time that the eagle didn’t have a very good chance. I knew if I left it there all night, it would have had a worse chance of surviving,” Adair says. “But even as it was, I could tell one of the legs was just dangling, just completely broken and I knew they wouldn’t be able to fix that, but I was hoping they could at least fix the other and keep it as an educational bird.”
She placed the eagle in a large pack and hiked it out. When she got to what she estimates to be a half mile from the highway, she spotted another large trap near the trail. She sprung that one as well, worried for the hikers that would be on the trail in the coming days.
Adair is no stranger to the outdoors. She spent the early part of her life in Ketchikan and Prince of Wales Island. She moved to Juneau when she was 9 and has lived here for almost 30 years. She grew up fishing and hunting and shot a bear at age 16. She raises rabbits for food. As an avid outdoors person, she often sees traps, but had never tampered with any before this. She saw one earlier that day, but it had been hanging from a tree and off the trail.
“I’m not against trapping per se. I am concerned about the traps when they’re on the trail in such a way as these were,” Adair says.
As soon as she drove into cell phone range, Adair called the Raptor Center. She brought the eagle to a volunteer’s house and sent photos. She was told the Raptor Center would call U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies to report the incident. At that point, she thought her involvement was done.
The eagle was immediately brought to a vet in Juneau where it was later euthanized.
Three days later, Adair led nine people on an 8-hour hike on Davies Creek Trail to the Thiel Glacier. It was dark as the group was finishing. Adair again saw a large trap near the trail head and sprung it. She says she was concerned for the hikers’ safety. Adair knows it’s illegal to mess with lawfully set traps. She wasn’t sure about this one because it was so close to the trail.
State and municipal codes say it’s illegal to trap within a half mile of any road and within a quarter mile of a designated list of trails. Davies Creek Trail is not on that list, but it is in the popular book, “90 Short Walks Around Juneau.” Adair says there was another group on the trail that same day.
Alaska Wildlife Trooper Sgt. Aaron Frenzel says his office received a complaint from a trapper on Dec. 30 regarding someone tampering with several of his traps. On Jan. 10, Adair was cited. The paperwork only identifies the trapper as “J.F.”
Frenzel says he doesn’t know how many traps had been tampered with. To his knowledge, no photos are part of the investigation. Since the complaint, he says no troopers have gone to the site to look at the traps.
“We got out and do routine checks of trap lines throughout the Juneau area so we had already been on this trap line once before and there was really no reason to go back in since there was nothing to investigate at that point,” he says.
At the start of the Trooper investigation, Frenzel says he didn’t know about a trapped eagle. He says that information got to him sometime after Jan. 1 via the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“What we expect from the public is if they come upon an eagle in a trap, to notify us as soon as possible. That way we can go out there and see what’s going on,” Frenzel says.
He says hindering lawful traps is illegal, but freeing an eagle from traps isn’t.
“If a trap’s already sprung on a animal, you cannot hinder it because that trap can no longer be caught, so whatever you do to that trap, you’re really not hindering at that point. That would not be something we would cite for, if a person came in and was freeing an eagle from a trap the eagle was in,” Frenzel says.
There is no regulation against accidentally trapping bald eagles. Frenzel says in the eight years he’s been in Juneau, he hasn’t heard of any other cases of trapped eagles and troopers haven’t cited anyone for hindering traps.
Jesse Ross is a trapper in Juneau and a member of the Alaska Trappers Association. He says he sympathizes with Adair. He’s seen wounded animals in nature and he’s accidentally trapped animals he wasn’t targeting.
“It’s unfortunate. You feel bad that you caught something that is now wasted and hopefully you learn, say, ‘Hey, maybe what could I have done different?’ That’s what I tell myself when I see that,” Ross says.
But he says Adair broke the law.
Ross says trappers follow a code of ethics and go to great lengths to reduce the possibility of trapping nontarget animals, but he says they’re guidelines. Trapping is ultimately about good judgment.
“Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right thing to do,” Ross says.
Adair is being arraigned in court this afternoon at 1 p.m. As of last night, she didn’t have a lawyer.