Hiker Found Guilty In Alaska In Tripping Traps That Killed Bald Eagle and Endangered Hikers

trapped-eagle-e1441350775692-930x699There is a bizarre case out of Alaska where hiker Kathleen Turley (no relation despite our shared name and mutual love for hiking) was found liable for springing traps John Forrest’s near a hiking path. The Juneau native insisted that she encountered the traps when it caught a bald eagle that she rescued from the trap. She tripped other traps to protect fellow hikers and her dog. However, the court found that that was no defense and that, under Alaskan law, she is liable.

It is bizarre for many of us that state law allows, let along protects, trap hunting — particularly near hiking areas. Yet, John Forrest sued Turley for hindering his trapping. The court however did not award damages despite Forrest’s initial demand for $5,000 (later reduced to between $1,000 and $1,200).

Forrest’s lawyers said they sued to teach Turley a lesson, who they said was “unapologetic” about springing traps. However, Turley had a plausible explanation. She said that Forrest baited the first trap with an entire beaver carcass in an effort to get a wolverine. The eagle had to be later euthanized after she carried it to get medical attention.

She said that she decided to spring the other traps to protect her dog and nearby hikers. A wildlife officer gave her a citation for springing the traps in violation to state law.

It is a surprise that Forrest can bait traps and kill a bald eagle without repercussions. It is equally bizarre that the state allows people to set traps near this trail or any trail. This year, illegally set traps led to police warnings to hikers and dog walkers.

Judge Thomas Nave asked the public not to judge him given his verdict: “When you read it, no matter who you are, please keep in mind that it will represent what the law requires. It will not represent any notions of approval or disapproval on my part… It will be a strict application of the law.”

That brings up the state law and the obvious need for reform. That law reads as follows:

AS 16.05.790. Obstruction or Hindrance of Lawful Hunting, Fishing, Trapping, or Viewing of Fish or Game.

(a) Except as provided in (e) of this section, a person may not intentionally obstruct or hinder another person’s lawful hunting, fishing, trapping, or viewing of fish or game by
(1) placing one’s self in a location in which human presence may alter the
(A) behavior of the fish or game that another person is attempting to take or view; or
(B) feasibility of taking or viewing fish or game by another person; or
(2) creating a visual, aural, olfactory, or physical stimulus in order to alter the behavior of the fish or game that another person is attempting to take or view.

First there is a legitimate question of why to allow trapping in areas with hikers. I may be wrong but I assume that the number of hikers is far greater than trappers in these areas. There is also the question of baiting traps that endanger bald eagles. Finally, there is the question of why the statute lacks a defense (or definition of intent) to excuse the tripping of traps to protect nearby hikers.

What do you think?


40 thoughts on “Hiker Found Guilty In Alaska In Tripping Traps That Killed Bald Eagle and Endangered Hikers”

  1. There are some defenses which could have been raised. I would ask for a jury trial and at trial I would set one of those traps at the foot of the steps up to the bench when the judge was not looking. When he steps in it I would then say to the jury that he stepped in his own itShay.

    The prosecutor would say that it was not appropriate to place the trap at the steps up to the lame duck judge’s bench. And I would reply that it was not appropriate to put them at the eagles lair or the hikers trek path.

    The judge needs a broken ankle.

  2. I would have been a lot more effective if Ms. Turley had used the picture of the dead bald eagle to shame the trapper on social media and encourage people who’s dogs had been harmed to sue the trappers.

  3. I actually respect the judge’s restraint. It seems clear he was empathetic to the hiker, sees the law as badly flawed, and made his decision hoping for the legislature, whose purview is the writing of laws, to do their job. The judge did his job. In a current political culture, w/ an “Uber Presidency” usurping the Constitution, we need more judges who keep the other branches of govt. in line. That does not mean legislating from the bench. That means showing the legislature the need to change a law.

  4. “Judge Thomas Nave asked the public not to judge him given his verdict: “When you read it, no matter who you are, please keep in mind that it will represent what the law requires. It will not represent any notions of approval or disapproval on my part… It will be a strict application of the law.””

    What do I think? I think this judge will not be getting a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court anytime soon. It would be interesting to follow this guy’s career to discover the case where he dons his legislative hat. He is already mindful of public opinion to the point he has to apologize for honoring his oath. He’s on the clock.

  5. The Judge needs to go hiking. Like across that swath of water to Russia. And ask Putin for a job.

  6. I would substitute the word “humans” for “hikers” in the text of the article. The traps threaten humans. Some humans are children. Some trappers are dorks. This one needs a bullet in the eye.

  7. Seems to me that Forrest’s traps were interfering with Ms. Turley’s ability to view the bald eagle and was definitely altering it’s behavior. She should have counter-sued under the same statute..

  8. In my state trappers gave legislators large animal hides to drape over their legislative seats during the time they were voting on trapping laws. Many public observers found it particularly disgusting. Photos of the legislators in their fur-draped chairs will be heavily used against them in the next election campaign.

  9. Isn’t it against federal law to trap or kill the national bird? Shouldn’t the trapper be brought up on federal charges?

  10. Concerning John Forrest and if he is Indian:

    Indian “eagle feather law” provides many exceptions to federal wildlife laws regarding eagles and other migratory birds to enable American Indians to continue their traditional practices.

    Under the current language of the eagle feather law, individuals of certifiable American Indian ancestry enrolled in a federally recognized tribe are legally authorized to obtain eagle feathers.
    Unauthorized persons found with an eagle or its parts in their possession can be fined up to $25,000. The eagle feather law allows for individuals who are adopted members of federally
    recognized tribes to obtain eagle feathers and eagle feather permits.

  11. Would private property vs. public property be the primary legal distinction? Most hiking trails accessible by the public are located in taxpayer owned public parks. Why would anyone be allowed to trap on taxpayer owned property which endangers the owners of that property?

  12. I don’t know how a trap can be made to discern between mammals and birds, much less eagles.

    I also don’t fully accept the defendant’s notion that she was being altruistic about defeating these traps to save her dog and other hikers. I believe it was more likely she was miffed about the eagle, understandably, but then went too far by exacting a form of payback to the trapper by defeating the other traps.

  13. My dog has been caught in a trap, another poisoned by 1080, another by cyanide; I’ve seen traps set along hiking trails, I’ve found three legged coyotes and poisoned birds and BLM land is like a boneyard. Trappers think wildlife are “things” that belong to them and that they are entitled to this taking, and what some do alone in the woods, to animals, is the stuff of nightmares. People who just want to hike, photograph, and observe nature are mocked for being “tree huggers” and government agencies usually side with the good ol’ boys. (I am not talking about hunting for food! We hunted and have weapons. But cruelty and pain to wildlife or a hiker’s dog and all the other collateral damage should be absolutely minimized.) How can you make an argument otherwise? But people do.

  14. From link @ 12:45AM

    “A family hike should not be a venture into no-man’s land with our pets and our children running the risk of injury and death. Recent data collected through distribution of educational flyers about trapping indicates that 1 out of 5 dog owners reported an incident with a dog getting caught in a trap. 85% of people are unaware that trapping even occurs in 2013, yet it is a booming multi-million dollar industry.

    “The public needs intensive lessons on what goes on in the outdoors”, says a Wisconsin trapper. Indeed we do. Please use this site and other trapfree sites for education about the hazards posed by trapping. Traps can be anywhere. Check with landowners before taking hikes and walks. State Stewardship Funding has put trapping into our County and State parks. Any private landowner may have traps on his/her land, as well.”

  15. It would seem a jury trial should have been requested on the chance that Jury Nullification might have happened.

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