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Lazy Mountain turkey killing raises trespass questions

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- Buddy the tame turkey loved to eat peanuts and get petted.

So it didn't surprise owner John Vinduska that a trio of teenage bowhunters were able to get within four feet of the bird in August before shooting Buddy in the side with an arrow and finishing him off by stabbing him in the head -- all just a couple feet from Vinduska's driveway on Lazy Mountain.

What did surprise Vinduska is that an Alaska State Trooper who responded to his 911 call that day told him that even though a neighbor spotted the teens on his property earlier, they didn't do anything illegal.

Turkeys are not considered a game animal in Alaska -- they don't occur in the wild here -- and there's no hunting season on them.

And while Vinduska had a "No Trespassing" sign down the road, he hadn't posted one in his driveway.

"He said, 'You don't have your land posted,' " Vinduska recalled this week. "The way the law reads, you have to post all accesses to your property if you don't want someone on your land hunting."

Vinduska said several of his turkeys had already gone missing from his 120-acre property over the summer. He'd found a bloody arrow next to his house.

The day Buddy got shot, a neighbor told Vinduska he'd spotted the teenagers headed toward Vinduska's pole barn, carrying bows. The neighbor yelled at the three to move off, Vinduska said. They said they'd spotted a moose on the property, then got in their car and drove away.

Vinduska said he confronted the trio when he saw the car come back down the road. Buddy was in the trunk.

They admitted to killing the turkey, he said. He told them he was calling the troopers.

The trooper who responded to Vinduska's call wasn't on duty Friday and couldn't be contacted, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said. She didn't have additional information about the case.

State law is complicated when it comes to trespass. Criminal statutes define trespass as entering property uninvited but only if every road and access point is posted with signs banning access or a specific activity, as well as contact information for landowners and others authorized to grant entry.

Civil law -- the kind that comes into play when someone files a lawsuit -- defines trespass more broadly. But a property owner has to have the money to file a lawsuit.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game urges hunters and trappers to get permission before entering private land.

"Use of private lands without the landowner's permission, other than those legally reserved for public access easements, is trespassing," according to Fish and Game's 2013-2014 hunting regulations.

But that language is not quoted verbatim from state law, an ADFG spokesman said in an email. Rather, the state is providing a "general common sense definition of 'trespassing" to help hunters make "ethical, considerate decisions about where they choose to hunt," spokesman Ken Marsh said.

Vinduska joins a growing list of property owners in the Valley who say it's time for the state to change its trespass laws to make landowners shoulder less of the burden.

Mat-Su Borough Assembly member Matthew Beck, who represents Palmer, is also interested in the topic.

"Do you think it should be illegal or legal to hunt and trap on private property without permission when it's not posted? Currently it is legal," Beck wrote on his Assembly campaign Facebook page earlier this week, after hearing about Vinduska's experience.

The question drew 98 comments by Friday afternoon, many siding with "illegal" but some urging people to post their property instead of opening the door to more laws and land-access issues.

Vinduska knows where he stands.

"Alaska law needs to be changed. It shouldn't be the landowner's responsibility to post the land," he said. "It should be the hunter and the trapper that finds out before they go trapping or hunting. In Alaska, there's so many places to hunt where you're not going to be on private property."

He still misses Buddy, one of four turkeys he incubated at home four years ago after receiving a shipment of eggs from his home state of Nebraska. The turkey used to rub up against Vinduska like a cat or a dog. He'd also get bored and chase cars.

"He would run out and bite at their tires," Vinduska said. "You'd see these people go, 'What the heck?' A turkey is biting at their tires. He'd be so proud when they drove off like he ran them off."

 


By ZAZ HOLLANDER
zhollander@adn.com