A Juneau hiker accused of deliberately setting off a trapper’s snares will hear her judgment in court today.
Kathleen Turley was so upset after finding a bald eagle ensnared in a wolverine trap on Davies Creek trail last winter that she purposefully sprung several more traps, alleged an attorney representing the trapper during closing arguments Thursday.
“She’s upset, she’s emotional about it, so what’d she do?” Zane Wilson, attorney for Juneau trapper John Forrest, argued in Juneau District Court. “She goes down to Mr. Forrest’s trap line and springs traps that have nothing to do with that eagle because she’s upset about it.”
Wilson made that accusation against Turley in his rebuttal closing argument. It came right after the defense accused Forrest of being an irresponsible trapper. Nicholas Polasky, Turley’s attorney, said Forrest set traps directly on or too close to the trail, which is legal for that particular trail but still presents safety hazards.
“Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s safe,” Nicholas Polasky, Turley’s attorney, said of Forrest’s trapping methods. He added, “Reasonableness and the law don’t always match up.”
Polasky also said Forrest used an entire beaver carcass, rather than small pieces of meat, to bait a wolverine. Instead, it attracted an eagle, which Turley discovered in twisted metal chains and leg holds. She freed it, but it later had to be euthanized.
Wilson and Forrest sued Turley last month, seeking $5,000 in damages for hindering Forrest’s trapping of fur animals. They have since lowered the amount and are requesting between $1,000 and $1,200.
“We’re not here to try to run up some big number or something against Ms. Turley,” Wilson told Judge Thomas Nave Thursday. He said they were before the court because Turley was “unapologetic” for setting off traps that they considered unrelated to the eagle, and that she should “learn something from this exercise.”
In her testimony Monday, the first day of the small claims trial, Turley fully admitted setting off three of Forrest’s traps. But she said she did it out of safety concerns, not to hinder Forrest’s trapping.
She said she sprung one marten box trap to protect her dogs while she worked for an hour to free the eagle from the trap on Dec. 24. She sprung another as she carried the injured eagle in a backpack on the hike back down, again citing the safety of her dogs. The third was three days later as she led a group of Juneau Alpine Club hikers down the trail at dusk, out of concern someone would be injured.
Judge Thomas Nave is to issue a written judgment by noon today. He said the contentious nature of the case, which highlights the tensions between trappers and trail users in the capital city, won’t be reflected in his ruling.
“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,” he said. “… It will be a strict application of the law.”
Nave will have to interpret the statute in question, which states that a person may not “intentionally obstruct or hinder” a lawfully set trap.
In closing arguments, Wilson argued that “intentionally” referred to the fact that Turley didn’t trip and fall and accidentally set off the trap.
“There’s no doubt in this case that Ms. Turley intentionally sprung Mr. Forrest’s traps,” he said. “That’s the act. She acted intentionally. Why she acted intentionally, what subjective state of mind she had for that purpose, I don’t think we have to necessarily prove.”
Polasky, on the other hand, said the plaintiff actually does have to prove that. To him, “intentionally” is a reference to state of mind.
“It makes sense that the law is kind of set up that way,” he said of his interpretation. He gave an example: What if a dog was caught in a trap, and there were several other traps in the same vicinity. Would it be illegal for a person to set off the other traps, so once the dog was freed, it wouldn’t get caught in another one?
“Under their interpretation of that, that would be a crime. That would be a crime punishable by 30 days in jail and a $500 fine,” Polasky said. “But I can’t believe that the Legislature would have set it up that way because the Legislature would realize that intentionally setting off a trap, you could do that in a lot of situations that make a ton of sense.”