Juneau trapper, hiker take stand at first day of trial

In the lobby of the Dimond Courthourse on Monday morning, attorney Nick Polasky hands trapper John Forrest court documents before the trial. Polasky is Kathleen Turley’s lawyer. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
In the lobby of the Dimond Courthourse on Monday morning, attorney Nick Polasky hands trapper John Forrest court documents before the trial. Polasky is Kathleen Turley’s lawyer. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Monday’s small claims case between a trapper and a trap springer was supposed to last an hour, but after about two and half hours in District Court, it’s stretching into a second day.

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Juneau trapper John Forrest is suing hiker Kathleen Turley for springing his lawfully set traps on Davies Creek Trail.

On the witness stand, John Forrest said he’s suing Kathleen Turley because the state dropped its case against her in January.

“I want her to realize she did something wrong that was against the law. My thoughts are if the prosecutor had done his job on the first go-around, we wouldn’t be here wasting our time and more money. What she did was wrong. She had good intentions,” Forrest said.

Alaska Wildlife Troopers had originally cited Turley for hindering lawful trapping, which carries up to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Forrest, a 55-year-old Juneau resident, makes his living chopping firewood and, less substantially, trapping. Forrest estimates he’s owed $500 to $750 in damages.

He’s been trapping for about 45 years and said his traps have been destroyed or stolen numerous times.

“Kind of puts a sour taste in your mouth when you put all this time and effort into something and somebody comes along and fools around with it,” he said. “It’s kind of like going out and setting your string of crab pots and going out a week later and two of the pots are gone and the crabs have been taken out of the rest. It’s like, what the heck am I doing out here?”

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. (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. (Photo courtesy Kathleen Turley)

Forrest has a 3-mile trap line near Davies Creek trail. On Dec. 27, he said three of his marten traps were sprung–two boxed traps on the ground and one trap that was in a bucket hanging in a tree. He reset them. On his way out, he found one of the ground traps and the one in the tree had been resprung.

“And never in my life have I had to reset the same traps twice in a day due to human interaction. That yanked my chain,” Forrest said.

Aside from these three traps, two others targeting wolverine had been sprung as well. These two had caught a bald eagle. Forrest calls that the ugly side of trapping.

“It’s kind of like fishing. Most of the time you catch what you want, sometimes you catch something that you don’t. It’s not something I look forward to, but it happens and it’s part of the whole trapping thing,” Forrest said.

Turley had come across the eagle three days earlier when she was scouting the trail with three dogs. The eagle was still alive and she attempted to save it. She tied up the dogs and sprung another trap that she said was 10 feet away.

“When you set off that marten trap right there, what was going through your mind? What were you thinking about?” Turley’s lawyer Nick Polasky asked.

“That I didn’t want one of my dogs to get caught in that trap while I was working on getting the eagle out,” Turley said.

It took Turley an hour to free the eagle out of the two traps. As she was walking out with the eagle, she said she sprung another trap on the ground.

“I grabbed a stick as I got close to it and then leaned over and tossed the stick in the trap as we went by, because I knew I could easily keep my dogs under control as I was doing that, but I didn’t want to go past the trap and have one of them break control 20 feet later and run back to it. I didn’t want to deal with trying to get another animal out of a trap that day. It was almost dark by then,” Turley said.

Nick Polasky talks with his client Kathleen Turley before trial Monday morning. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
Nick Polasky talks with his client Kathleen Turley before trial Monday morning. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Three days later, Turley was back on Davies Creek Trail leading a group of hikers. She said she sprung this same trap as she was walking out because it was dark and she didn’t want her dog or other hikers to stumble into it.

On both days, Turley said she saw a trap hanging from the tree, but didn’t spring it. She said another group of hikers was also on Davies Creek Trail on Dec. 27.

Turley is an avid outdoors person and a hunter. She raises rabbits for food and is not opposed to trapping.

As Forrest’s lawyer Zane Wilson questioned Turley over the phone, she admitted springing two different traps, one on two separate days.

“Did the thought ever cross your mind about the impact you’d be having on a trapper when you’re out there springing their traps?” Wilson asked.

“No,” Turley replied.

“‘Cause you don’t care about the impact it had on the trapper?” Wilson said.

“Safety of my dogs and my group were foremost on my mind. I didn’t think about what effect it would have on the trapper,” Turley said.

“And the safest thing for your dogs would be for you to leave them at home, correct?” Wilson said.

“Safest thing for any of us would be to stay at home all the time and never go anywhere,” Turley said, which drew a subtle reaction from the roughly 20 people sitting in the audience. Most appeared to be there in support of Turley.

The trial is scheduled reconvene Thursday afternoon.