Kathleen Adair was hiking in Alaska when she came across a bald eagle with both of its legs caught in a trap, but after spending an hour freeing it, she thought the ordeal was over.
Then the Alaska Wildlife Troopers came calling. It turns out that it is illegal in Alaska to “hinder with lawful traps,” and Adair found herself looking at the prospect of a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.
Adair said her first intention wasn’t to free the bird herself. She tried to call the Juneau Raptor Center, a nonprofit she knew of that helped birds in need. After taking a picture of the trapped bald eagle and sending them the GPS coordinates, the agency said they would not be able to help.
“I wanted to go back and tell the Raptor Center where it was. I knew that would be the best thing to do, but I also knew that it would be getting dark soon. It was 2 miles from the road and it was all the way at the end of the road, so I knew that they wouldn’t be able to get out there that day to it,” Adair says.
“I knew at the time that the eagle didn’t have a very good chance. I knew if I left it there all night, it would have had a worse chance of surviving,” Adair says.
“But even as it was, I could tell one of the legs was just dangling, just completely broken and I knew they wouldn’t be able to fix that, but I was hoping they could at least fix the other and keep it as an educational bird.”
She hiked the bird out — setting off another trap on the way — and brought it to the Raptor Center, but it was later euthanized. Later, after the incident, Adair led a group of people on a hike and set off other traps she believed were too close to the path.
But a few days later, the trapper reported that some of the traps were tampered with, and Adair was cited for the misdemeanor crime.
Her case has drawn national attention, with many people supporting Adair’s actions and calling on Alaska to drop the charges. Others believe that the trapper, while acting legally, was not careful enough about where and how the traps were set.
But officials said had she just freed the bald eagle and not set off the traps, she would not have been charged.
“What we expect from the public is if they come upon an eagle in a trap, to notify us as soon as possible. That way we can go out there and see what’s going on,” said Alaska Wildlife Trooper Sgt. Aaron Frenzel, who noted that it is not considered tampering with a trap to free an eagle.
Kathleen Adair has been arraigned for freeing the bald eagle and setting off traps, but does not yet have a lawyer.