Juneau hiker who freed eagle and sprung traps sued by trapper

The woman who freed a trapped eagle and was cited for springing other traps is heading back to court. In January, the State of Alaska dropped its case against Kathleen Turley. Now, the trapper is suing her for damages in small claims court.

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Kathleen Turley encountered this eagle stuck in two traps Dec. 24, 2014. She freed the eagle and tampered with other legally set traps in the area. She’s now being sued. (Photo courtesy Kathleen Turley)
Kathleen Turley encountered this eagle stuck in two traps Dec. 24, 2014. She freed the eagle and tampered with other legally set traps in the area. She’s now being sued. (Photo courtesy Kathleen Turley)

Pete Buist is a past president and board member of the Alaska Trappers Association. He’s now its spokesman. Buist doesn’t know the Juneau trapper, John Forrest, but understands why he’s suing. He says if it were him, he’d do the same thing.

“I say bravo for the trapper. The state won’t do what’s right. He should do what’s right,” Buist says.

Forrest, who’s suing Kathleen Turley for at least $5,000, declined to comment.

Kathleen Turley in the Dimond Courthouse after the State of Alaska dismissed the case against her. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
Kathleen Turley in the Dimond Courthouse after the State of Alaska dismissed the case against her. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

In January, Turley (formerly Kathleen Adair at the time of the events) says she sprang three traps on two separate days out of concern for the safety of dogs and hikers. She also freed an eagle that was caught in two traps. Despite her efforts to save the eagle, it was later euthanized.

Alaska Wildlife Troopers cited Turley for tampering with traps that Forrest had legally set, not for freeing the eagle. Hindering lawful trapping is a violation of state law that carries up to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Turley wasn’t fined or jailed. At the arraignment, the state’s prosecutor used his discretion and advocated for the case to be thrown out, and it was.

Buist says members of the trappers association weren’t happy.

“I can fully understand why the lady rescued the eagle. I don’t have any problem with that whatsoever. And I think if she had just rescued the eagle, the trappers would’ve supported that. But she didn’t. She went back and tampered with the traps and broke the law,” Buist says.

Shortly after the State of Alaska dropped its case against Turley, Buist says several members of the trappers association complained to the attorney general’s office.

“And basically we were summarily dismissed as the fringe element and it fizzled after that,” Buist says.

Forrest has a lawyer, though it’s not required in small claims court. Attorney Zane Wilson is no stranger in the trapping community. He helped win a high profile case involving wildlife biologist Gordon Haber who freed a wolf from a snare in Tok in 1997. The biologist was being funded by an international animal advocacy organization. The trapper sued and the Tok jury awarded him $190,000.

Wilson is with Fairbanks firm Cook Shuhmann & Groseclose. He relayed through an employee he was “not authorized” to speak to me. Wilson is a lifetime member of the trappers association. Buist says Wilson’s uncle is Dean Wilson, a well-known trapper and fur buyer who’s been called the state’s patriarch of trapping.

A fellow Juneau trapper and a state wildlife biologist have said Forrest partially relies on trapping for income. The most targeted species in the Juneau area is marten. In the 2012-2013 season, the average price for raw marten fur was about $140. A state report says one even fetched $1,300. In Southeast, trappers also target mink, otter, wolf and beaver, among other animals.

Turley, who freed the eagle and sprung the traps, doesn’t think she owes Forrest anything. She says she’s never been contacted by him. Until she received the complaint in the mail in July, she didn’t even know his name.

“I was very surprised and confused. … I hadn’t heard anything about it. I had no idea that he felt there was money owed,” Turley says.

Turley is Alaska-raised and has lived in Juneau for 30 years. She grew up fishing and hunting and shot a bear at age 16. As an avid outdoors person, she’s seen traps before, but had never tampered with any before the eagle incident. Turley says she’s not against trapping, but thinks it’s better suited for other parts of the state.

She says she didn’t damage the traps when she sprung them. Turley hasn’t been on the Davies Creek Trail where she found the eagle since.

“I’ve completely avoided that area, which is a beautiful area, a very nice trail, but I haven’t gone anywhere near it. I don’t want anything do to with it,” Turley says.

She says the whole incident and the lawsuit have caused her a lot of stress and grief.

The trial is scheduled for Oct. 12. Turley doesn’t have a lawyer yet.