Juneau judge sides with trapper, but no damages awarded

In a small claims case between a trapper and a trap springer, a judge finds the trap springer liable but doesn’t award any damages to the trapper.

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Trapper John Forrest sued hiker Kathleen Turley for springing his lawfully set traps on Davies Creek Trail in Juneau. Turley had made headlines in January for also freeing a bald eagle from two traps.

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)

In his decision, Judge Thomas Nave addresses each trap Kathleen Turley admitted to springing last December.

Nave writes that Turley was justified in springing the marten trap closest to the unintentionally caught eagle she was freeing.

Regarding the other trap near the trailhead that she sprung twice over two days, the judge doesn’t find Turley justified. In her concern for dogs and other hikers, Nave writes, “Other alternatives existed.”

Even though Nave finds Turley liable, he states Forrest failed to prove his damages during the small claims case that took place over two days. Forrest had testified he was owed up to $750 but Nave wrote he offered no evidence, like a weekly log of what animals he traps.

Forrest’s lawyer Zane Wilson asked for an additional $500 in punitive damages. That was denied as well because he didn’t prove Turley sprang the traps out of malice.

Turley sees the decision as a win-win. She’s relieved because she doesn’t have to pay anything toward what started out as a $5,000 complaint. And she hopes it’ll make Forrest and other trappers happy.

“They wanted to make a point that it’s not OK to spring people’s traps and they’ve made that point because they won as far as that goes. And for me, it’s more important that I didn’t have to pay anything.”

Turley says the whole experience has been frustrating and stressful and she’s glad it’s over. She stands by what she did, but

“I definitely don’t condone springing traps. Situation I did it in were extreme circumstances but I don’t condone springing traps just because they’re inconvenient to you or because you feel like they shouldn’t be there.”

Her lawyer Nick Polasky, who took the case pro bono, calls the judge’s decision “splitting the baby” and wrote in an email “each side has something to be pleased with.”

Neither John Forrest nor his attorney Zane Wilson returned calls for comment. Pete Buist, a spokesman for the Alaska Trappers Association, is pleased with the decision.

“As a trapper, as a guy who occasionally speaks for trappers, I think it’s pretty good.”

Buist says it’s unfortunate Forrest didn’t get an award for damages, but he calls the decision fair.

“The bottom line was this was not about an eagle, nor was it about money. It was about showing the defendant – and the DA for that part – that we’re a country of laws. There’s a law that you can’t do those sorts of things and she ignored the law and went ahead and did it.”

Alaska Wildlife Troopers had originally given a citation to Turley for illegally hindering lawful trapping, but the district attorney asked for the judge to throw out the case.

Buist says the whole situation has spurred interest for trappers in Juneau to organize.

“They held a little meeting in Juneau about forming a formal trappers association or a chapter of ATA in Juneau so people could sort of stick together.”

He says it would help trappers to communicate with each other, help coordinate efforts to work with other trail users, educate trappers about where they should and shouldn’t trap and educate the public about the law that says you can’t just go around springing traps.