Investigation Launched Into Grizzly Bear Mauling of Botanist Outside Yellowstone National Park

An investigation is under way into the fatal mauling of a 70-year-old botanist just outside Yellowstone National Park's eastern border. USGS photo.

For 30 years Erwin Frank Evert had retreated with his wife to the mountains just east of Yellowstone National Park to a cabin that was a base-camp for his botanical field work. Roaming the mountains and meadows in and out of the park, the 70-year-old was well-accustomed to the wilds and what they held.

So well-versed was he with what grows in the area where northwestern Wyoming, southern Montana, and northeastern Idaho come together that the botanist had just recently published Vascular Plants of the Greater Yellowstone Area, a rich botanical guide to the region, according to friends.

But what his friends and acquaintances can’t explain is why the Illinois man headed up the wooded and brushy Kitty Creek drainage of the Washakie Wilderness to where a grizzly boar had been drugged by wildlife biologists so they could fit it with a radio collar to expand their knowledge of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem’s grizzly population.

Sometime late Thursday afternoon last week Mr. Evert met the bear head-on and was mauled to death. On Saturday -- ironically homing in on the signal from the collar that they had hoped would tell them much in the coming years about this 5- to 10-year-old bear -- wildlife agents killed the bear with a rifle shot fired from a hovering helicopter.

Now members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, which in the days leading up to the bear's capture had posted signs in the drainage warning hikers to stay out of the area because of their work collaring the grizzly, are trying to figure out why for the first time ever their work has resulted in a fatal mauling.

“In 33 years or so of trapping in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem we’ve never had this situation before,” an understandably somber Chuck Schwartz, team leader of the state-federal bear study team, said Monday.

Placing a radio collar on a grizzly typically is a fairly straightforward procedure. Bears are captured either in culvert traps or with leg-hold snares, and then biologists knock them out with Telezol, a drug with a sound track record in bear captures. Biologists can tell when the drug is wearing off because as the anesthesia lightens “spontaneous blinking will occur, bears will show chewing movements and paw movement,” notes an International Veterinary Information Service paper on anesthesia of bears. “They will start to lift their head, and may attempt to raise themselves with their forelimbs.”

According to Chris Servheen, the long-time Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the field biologists in this incident stayed with the 430-pound grizzly until it began to stir, then left the area. About the same time, Mr. Evert was heading up the drainage that climbs into the Absaroka Mountains just about 7 miles east of Yellowstone.

“I cannot remember another incident where a grizzly bear that’s been handled has killed a person, recently after being handled," Dr. Servheen said Monday. "And we have captured thousands of grizzly bears and black bears using these same techniques. This is the first time its ever happened.”

Mr. Evert's friends said he knew of the bear-trapping efforts. But they can't say why he was inclined to head into the area before an all-clear was given.

“None of us understand it and apparently never will,” Chuck Neal, a long-time friend and author of Grizzlies in the Mist told the Billings Gazette.

How the confrontation played out might never be known, as there were no witnesses. But Dr. Servheen, who received his doctorate in wildlife biology from the University of Montana in 1981, said the bear probably was not reacting to having been drugged.

“It doesn’t wake up really mad. We’ve heard repeated references to human emotions with bears here. They don’t hold a grudge, they’re not mad of anything like that,” he said Monday during a phone call from his Missoula, Montana, office. “They wake up. It’s a dissociative drug, so they’re completely unconscious during the time that they’re handled, and they wake up and they’re not in any kind of retribution state of mind or any such thing. That’s all human emotions.”

The grizzly also did not view the botanist as food, for after mauling the man -- removing what threat it might have perceived -- the bear left the area without consuming any part of him, said Dr. Servheen.

The biologist made the decision to have the grizzly killed because there were too many unknowns behind what spurred the mauling.

“We don’t have a policy that bears that kill people are immediately killed. We try to make a judgment as to the behavior of the bear, whether the bear was exhibiting natural aggression, such as self-defense, a female with cubs that’s approached (too closely) by a photographer,” said Dr. Servheen. “(If) we thought it was a natural mortality, or a natural aggression, we leave those bears alone.

“In this case we didn’t have that kind of information. There were no witnesses, so we don’t know whether this was a natural type of aggression,” he continued. “So just to err on the side of public safety, we removed the bear.”

In the coming weeks the IGBST will pull together a report on the incident by gleaning information from the scene of the mauling and from those who knew Mr. Evert.

“When we do these we try to pull together all the information available,” Dr. Servheen said. “Try to reconstruct it as much as possible, talk to anybody who may have talked to the individual so we know what he was doing, what he knew, and summarize what we think happened here. And if there any recommendations to come out of it we would make those as well.”

Louisa Willcox, who focuses on grizzly bear issues for the Natural Resource Defense Council’s Montana office, had known Mr. Evert for years, but couldn’t guess why he decided to hike up Kitty Creek, knowing there was a bear-collaring project under way. “He was very comfortable in the woods. He seemed to have known the risky nature of the situation with the captured bear,” she said Monday.

Ms. Willcox hoped the coming investigation would not only shed light on what transpired, but also, if needed, strengthen the protocols to be followed in future bear-collaring projects.

“I don’t know why there wouldn’t have been some people sort of on the scene making sure that the bear had cleared the premises, you know,” she said. “Because evidently he walked right onto it from all accounts that I’ve read.

“I think this is one of those situations where quarterbacking this from hindsight and not knowing the details, as I don’t, is a little difficult. But it’s definitely a situation that should be looked into, and where if the protocols weren’t followed some new ones might be helpful to avoid another person walking into, innocently,” continued Ms. Willcox. “I mean, this guy knew what he was walking into, and there were warning signs. But you can imagine the scenario where somebody innocently walked into something like that. It would behoove the agencies to make sure that the bear is up, awake, in good condition, and is gone.

“... “This is certainly a tragedy This guy had been around the woods for years and years, looking at plants and finding new subspecies every place. He was very, very woods-wise. It’s very sad.”

Comments

Not sure if bear repellent would have worked, I wasn’t there either, however no one can be certain of anything with animals and that precaution or some other could have saved Mr. Evert and yet he went to an area he was warned about with nothing for protection. One can only hope from this tragedy that the investigation will enlighten people.

The bear probably had a hangover and he shouldn't have been killed for it.

The decision to kill this bear does not seem justified under the circumstances. I hope the investigation will be conducted by an objective entity as it would seem there are many questions to ask about this event.

Sad that the bear moved away into rugged terrain and they still killed it. Very poorly handled all around.

I've read (Cody newspaper) that he didn't have bear spray with him .... Maybe - just maybe - this could have been avoided.

I have been to Yellowstone countless times. I have gone into that great adventure knowingly and understanding that this not my home but home to the wildlife. When hiking and camping, I always understood the risks both the avoidable and the unavoidable. I am sad that a bear that did not consume his victim and moved away from populated areas had to be put down. I understand the need for puplic saftey - but in Yellowstone I feel strongly that it is wildlife saftey that comes first. I am confident in what I have read that Mr. Evert understood this as well. My heart goes out to his family and to those at Yellowstone who have to make these tough decisions. Those that have to balance the world of the wilderness and humans.

I hate second-guessing, but I can't agree with the decision to kill the bear. If it was radio-collared it would easily have been monitored to see if it showed signs of unusual aggression, or habituation that represented a danger.

Also, anyone, myself included, who enters the backcountry needs to do so fully aware and accepting of the risks involved. If I’m killed by a grizzly in the backcountry I don’t expect nor want anyone seeking retribution on the griz.

I was amazed after the so called pros of the fish and game had done the radio collaring, that signs were not posted. Or were they? Did Mr Evert ignore the signs! The one thing for sure is that the Bear should not have been killed and the investigation i hope will answer all the questions. Mr Servheen should resign and a smarter person who understands the Grizzly will make sure this never happens again.

It is unconscionable that Mr. Everts was not carrying bear spray. The stuff works well with many, many cases of grizzly's being driven off by the intelligent use of this capsaicin pepper based chemical. Not carrying bear spray in Yellowstone is nothing but bumble headed stupidity. Too bad for the bear and Everts.

I worked, hiked, lived, ran and mountain biked in Yellowstone for over 40 years. My family used to own a cabin next to Mr. Everts in the same housing area.

No excuses. Everts goofed and he and the bear are dead.

Steve Underwood

My wife and I would NEVER hike anywhere in bear country without our pepper sprays. We have had many encounters with these magnificent animals over the years, being long distance day hikers. We have never had to use our spray in all our years of hiking, although we have had it at the ready numerous times. One of which was just last year at Grand Teton. It's a tragedy for both the bear and the botanist, one that could probably have been avoided with pepper spray.

Wouldn't it make much more sense to do the investigation FIRST and then decide whether or not the
bear needed to be put down. It is terrible for Mr Everts and his family, but it appears this was not a predatory attack in the fact of no consumption. How many people have been defensively mauled by a surprised or startled bear? Have all of those aminals been Removed? The number of preditory attacks (which this doesn't seem to be) is minute in comparison.
If after the attack, the animal moved deeper into the wilderness, it seems that the decision to remove it
was premature. Lack information just doesn't seem to be enouogh reason!
It appears that this is a case of someone crossing the street against the light and getting hit. It's not likely
that it was the driver's fault!

In my opinion this is a case of shoot first as questions later. Every day we are encrouching more and more into theses animals habitats.There only line of defense when they feel threatened is their claws and teeth. A man that was aware of the dangers and what was going on in the area chose to ignore the the consiquences and trek through anyways and because of this the bear and his life ended. This is a first because most people would not dare ignore the warning signs that are posted and venture into this area. I honestly feel the bear is not to blame and when startled they will do what is natural to them. Comming out of being drugged and feeling out of sorts will,I believe, make a bear more apt tp be on the defensive. If you choose to make dicisions to go into these areas then you must arm yourself with bear spray or a gun and dont blame the animal of something happens. Just because we can go to these places doesnt mean we always should. Would you go swimming in an area they just tagged a bunch of great whites and then be suprised when you get bit by one? The old saying curiosity killed the cat speaks volumes in this inceident.

I am more than a little disappointed at how this incident was handled overall. Mr. Evert had no business hiking into backcountry, where he KNEW there was a bear, without bearspray in the first place; he knew better. But, to have the bear put down as a result, was just plain wrong on all accounts. The people who made this decision dont seem to be savvy and should not be in charge of making decisions. The bear is the real victim here; he was going about his business being a bear when a human intruded, and he is dead as a result. I do feel bad for Mr. Everts family, but as I said before, he knew better and he put himself in that situation. The real crime is that the bear, living in his area, supposedly being protected, became a victim to this man's irresponsible actions. Too sad and unjustifiable. I hope we see a change in the management of critical situations like this by someone who thinks clearly first and acts later. I also think it would be advisable to have biologists make sure the bear has moved on and cleared the area after being sedated. Above all, we have to remember this is the grizzlies - and the animals - domain; this is where they belong, and we must be cognitive of that and prepared for a possible encounter from which we can protect ourselves, as well as the life of the animal. This whole thing is just inexcusable All the comments Ive read here are well thought out and intelligent and we should expect that from wildlife officials who are supposed to have the education behind their thoughts and actions.

Think cover-up. After tranqulilizing and radio collaring a grizzly, "researchers" packed up their gear and headed down the trail on horseback at 1 pm. Why would the trap site still be posted if the "researchers" were finished? It's only 2 miles to the trailhead and Evert's cabin, but it takes the "researchers" 3 hours to get there. Three hours.

They run into Evert's wife Yolanda at 4 pm, and she says her husband is missing.

One "researcher" goes back to the trapping site and finds Erwin Evert dead. We're supposed to believe that the researcher didn't contact (via 2-way radio) Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team leader Chuck Schwartz or U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen. Our "researcher" just rides back to the trailhead and tells Yolanda Evert her husband is dead. It took the researcher 15 minutes to go the the trap site, find Evert's body, and ride back to the trailhead. Fifteen minutes. Now it's 4:15 pm.

Do you call Schwartz or Servheen? Do you call the Park County Sheriff's Dept? Even if there's no phone service at the Evert's cabin, you're less than 10 miles from the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. 4:15 pm.

A Park County Sheriff's Dept. press release says they were notified at 6:48 pm. Why did it take so long to contact the Sheriff's dept? And who made the call? Was it one of the "researchers?" Schwartz? Servheen?

Given that the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team may bear responsibility for Evert's death, and that Chris Servheen and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service work hand & glove with the study team, why are they investigating this incident? Shouldn't law enforcement officials be investigating Servheen and the bear study team?

I have to agree with Trailman. Yellowstone is home to wildlife first, humans second. The decision to kill this bear, one that was collared and easily monitored, was not a wise choice in my opinion.

THE RESEARCHERS NEED TO BE INVESTIGATED. THE BEAR SHOULD HAVE BEEN LEFT ALONE.

I strongly believe that the individual who ordered the destruction of this bear should lose their job. There is nothing natural in trapping, knocking down and collaring a bear. Then when it exhibits a behavior shortly thereafter that cannot be explained as natural and this is used as justification to kill the animal is just abhorrent to me. How arrogant to assume that they know how this series of actions affected this animal physically and emotionally. We do not have the capability to understand the emotions of a bear. All of the human beings involved in this mess should look very closely at the decisions that they made. Alot of mistakes were made and because of it a bear needlessly lost its life.