Widow of Man Mauled By Grizzly Sues Federal Government For Wrongful Death, Negligence

A woman whose husband was mauled to death by a grizzly bear near Yellowstone National Park shortly after it had been sedated by wildlife biologists is suing the federal government for $5 million, saying the biologists failed to adequately monitor the bear and warn area residents of their work.

Erwin Frank Evert was killed June 17, 2010, about seven miles beyond Yellowstone's east entrance by a 425-pound grizzly boar that had been trapped by biologists for the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team so they could attach a radio collar.

“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 in the days following the mauling.

This past Tuesday things got a little worse for Mr. Schwartz, who along with two others who worked for the team were named in the wrongful death lawsuit Yolanda Evert filed in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

"This Complaint is brought against defendant for its employees' negligent and wrongful acts and omissions while acting within the scope of their employment with the United States Government," said the filing.

Named in the complaint along with Mr. Schwartz were Chad Dickinson and Seth Thompson. Mr. Dickinson and Mr. Thompson, the lawsuit contends, failed to alert the Everts that they would be trapping grizzly bears near their summer cabin, and also failed to monitor the grizzly as it came out of sedation.

According to the complaint, in a standard IGBST form the two placed a question mark on the line where it asked for a time "when the bear's recovery from sedation was complete."

"As the crew prepared to leave the Kitty Creek drainage area, they encountered Yolanda Evert and she expressed concern as to her husband's whereabouts," the lawsuit states. "Chad Dickinson rode directly back to site #3 to look for Mr. Evert. Mr. Dickinson found Mr. Evert's mauled body approximately twenty-one yards from where bear #646 was left to recover unmonitored from the effects of chemical immobilization and other intrusions, and almost directly under a tree where the IGBST crew had hung bait.

"Mr. Dickinson left Mr. Evert at the scene without dismounting from his horse," the complaint continued, then stated simply that, "Mr. Evert was fatally mauled by bear #646."

For 30 years the Everts, who lived most of the year in Illinois, had retreated to their cabin near Yellowstone so he could spend his summers on 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 shortly before his death published Vascular Plants of the Greater Yellowstone Area, a rich botanical guide to the region.

Not only does the complaint charge that the biologists failed to adequately monitor the bear as it came to, but it contends that as they left the area they took down signs warning area residents of the trapping work, even though the signs were supposed to remain in place for three more days.

While the complaint claims Mr. Evert was unaware of the trapping efforts, shortly after his death friends said he was aware of them.

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 told the Traveler shortly after the incident.

Three days after the mauling, wildlife agents, homing in on the signal from the collar that Mr. Dickinson and Mr. Thompson had fitted the grizzly with with hopes it would tell them much about his behavior in the coming years, wildlife agents killed the bear with a rifle shot fired from a hovering helicopter.

Comments

The government will settle this out of court because a trail would severely damage the credibility of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen.
Servheen and Study Team leader Chuck Schwartz knew that field researchers had removed warning signs posted at the trap site where Evert died. Servheen and Schwartz knew the field researchers left the bear behind before it was ambulatory. Servheen and Schwartz knew written trapping protocols were virtually non-existent.
But the day after Evert was killed, Servheen and Schwartz began a well-orchestrated campaign to "blame the victim." They told the media warning signs were posted, but Evert ignored them. They told the media there were stringent trapping protocols, and that the field researchers followed those protocols. They lied and mislead the public.
Servheen and Schwartz can't afford to have this come out in court while a trio of judges is deciding whether or not to delist Yellowstone grizzlies. The judges might wonder if Servheen and Schwartz have lied and mislead them.
Evert was well-aware the grizzly study team was trapping in the Kitty Creek drainage, but the trail was open to the public. There were no warning signs posted at the trailhead. The study team only placed warning signs at the actual trap sites. Evert came upon a trap site about a week before he got killed. It's not the same trap site where he got killed. It was about 2 miles away from the trap site where he died. Field researchers had removed the warning signs at the trap site where Evert got killed.

Tough story. It sounds like the grizz researchers may have been a bit negligent. Was waiting with the bear until it woke up standard procedure that they chose to ignore?

Oh, please! Although I'm sorry for this woman's loss, I think her case is ridiculous! I'm afraid the government will settle, though, which will only encourage more frivolous lawsuits. If you don't want to risk encounters with wild animals, stay out of the woods!

Stupid logic pauletteb. If you don't want to get shot by thugs stay inside your home? Same logic...The bear should have been killed and if the research team violated protocol at the expense of a man's life then they should be held accountable.

the body was found directly under bait that had been left hanging from a tree... ample proof right there of negligience.

Well lets see. put food in a tree to attract a grizzly bear in order to tag and track it. Have we learned nothing. Habituating,hello and drugs. we all need to wake up. Of course its to late for this family. God bless the Evert's

Let me see if I understand this correctly. The study team followed the limited protocols as written by the Gov't Agency except for one thing - they didn't wait for the bear to become completely ambulatory and left with the signs. If they had waited another 15 minutes or so till the bear was up and around and then pulled the signs they would have followed the limited protocol in place, no? In other words, the original signage stated the area would be closed from 6/12 thru 6/20. I'm guessing the 6/20 date was an estimate, and supposedly the sign could be pulled if they had captured a grizzly on 6/13 and left it ambulatory. So if they had followed the limited protocols in place and waited till the bear was ambulatory and then pulled the signs, there's a chance Mr. Evert still would have approached this area without any signage warning and all the arguements of not following proper sign protocol would be moot. Now of course I'm not saying they didn't need to be changed in the future, but all the talk of conspiratorial coverup about the signs would be nonsense.

I assume you are the same Mr. Smith @Examiner and don't see my post where you allow comments, so I will guess you don't like to be critiqued.
This "blame the victim" campaign you refer to is nothing more than a failure of connecting the dots in the beginning that is typical of most bureaucratic communication. There are so many people involved that you really can only depend on the facts presented in the final report. Now if the plaintiffs attorney can somehow sway the court that a campaign to discredit and prejudice the victim prior to trial will stand in the way of a fair trial, she can petitition the court for a change of venue.
Since Wyoming is a comparative negligence state, if it goes to trial it will be interesting to see which party is more culpable. I certainly feel Mr. Evert contributed to his own death, but did he contribute more than 51% is the standard that must be met for the Feds to win if it goes to trial.
The Feds on the other hand had a very ambiguous set of protocols where they gave the biologists enough latitude on how to handle the risk to the public. I know they disapprove of notifying the public in general as to where they will be trapping, as that brings out the crazies and puts their lives and the biologists at risk. They also leave it to the biologists whether they should inform the locals if they feel the trappings are close enough to warrant it based on how remote the trapping area is to any commonly used main trail. I would guess they chose not to post on the main trail as they felt that would attract too much interest. The postings around trap site #3 were taken down as the bear became more ambulatory but would this have saved Mr. Evert if they had left them up another 10 minutes or so until the bear became fully ambulatory? My guess is no, as Mr. Evert didn't leave his cabin until approx 12:45 or 1:00 pm, and the biologists left the site at 12:30. It probably took them 15-20 minutes to ride down to the main trail at which time Mr. Evert would have either been leaving or getting ready to leave at 1 pm. I would guess the new protocols make them leave the signs up permanantly with the date extending a few days after the release to make sure the bear has left the area.....but that is still no guarantee that any bear will move on.

In the unlikely event this case goes to trial, Servheen and Schwartz will get crucified in court for their "blame the victim campaign." The official investigation of Evert's death reveals that grizzly study team leader Chuck Schwartz was called at his home about the incident the evening of June 17, and Servheen was called by the Study Team at 6:45 the next morning. For the next week or so, both men kept telling the media standard protocol was to post warning signs at the trap site, Evert ignored warnings, blah, blah, blah.
The investigation also reveals that the field biologists left the bear that killed Evert when it could lift its head and get up a little on its forelegs, but before it was ambulatory. The record for the next bear they handled shows that after it could lift its head, it was more than an hour before it was ambulatory. Wait till that comes out in court. Ouch.
The bear trappers did not follow protocol. Period. This case is a slam dunk win for Evert's widow and daughter.
There's not a shred of evidence that Evert contributed to his own death. The Kitty Creek trail was open to the kids at a nearby Boy Scout Camp, me, you, and Evert. If it wasn't safe to use the Kitty Creek Trail due to bear trapping, the government should have closed the trail. It's a stretch to claim Evert contributed to his own death by hiking on a U.S. Forest Service trail that was open to the public and not posted with warnings about bear trapping.
All the government can do to discredit Evert is to speculate about why he walked up a trail that was open to the public, turned up a decommissoned logging road that was open to the public, and entered a bear trapping site he didn't know about because it wasn't posted.
Note to bear spray zealots: there's no law requiring Evert to carry bear spray. Even if he had bear spray, would it have have done him any good? Read the official investigation. Both government trappers mentioned that it was cold and windy. When the trappers approached the bear that killed Evert, they didn't pull out bear spray, they were armed with a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with slugs.

Yes, if it goes to court they may get crucified but in turn so will Mr. Evert. They should have said "no comment" until the investigation was completed and the final report released. There statements were based upon the signs being posted at site #2 that was visited by Evert, and statements from witnesses that Evert was warned to stay out of the Kitty Creek Trail area by a friend and his wife.

Standard protocol is to post signs at each study sight, which was done. The protocol was never written as to when those signs should be pulled, and it's my understanding all biologists are given the latitude to use their own judgement. They let the bad weather and previous experience overide protocol to wait for the bear to be ambulatory and making it's way away from the site.

As far as the bear at site #2 taking an hour to be ambulatory is noteworthy. That means maybe the bear at site #3 would have been ambulatory at 1:30 using that example. It's entirely possible that Evert could have reached site #3 at least at that time or much later. We don't know if he made any stops along the way. So whether he made it there at 1:30, 2:30, or 3:00 is only a guess, but had protocol been followed and assuming the bear would have been fully ambulatory at 1:30, the very best that could have been hoped for was running into Evert as they descended site #3. If he had made stops along the way or he tried to hide from them so as not to get caught.....they still never would have seen him.

Nothing is a slam dunk till negotiations are completed or a final verdict is read!

Not a shred of evidence he contributed to his own death? Surely you jest! I'm not going to go into the details but he knew what the biologists were doing in the area by the signs he mentioned and discussed with Mr. Neal the week before. They rode by his cabin twice while he was out front and all he did was waive, but yet on the fatal day he told his wife after seeing them ride by earlier, he was going up to talk to those guys and find out what they were up to. She warned him not to go up there. If he was so curious, he had plenty of opportunity to do that by just stopping them instead of waiving. His hubris and defiance contributed to his death.

The closing of Kitty Creek Trail goes back to how much public notice is too much. Believe it or not there are "nut jobs" who would like nothing better than to get a first hand view of what goes on at a trap site. If they posted the signs down at the beginning of the old logging trail where egress began to go back to site #3, this could also lure the "nut jobs." No, since this was a remote site 1700' off the Kitty Creek Trail, posting the signs far enough away to quarantine a safe distance should have been sufficient based for the protocols in place at the time.

As far as you bad mouthing pepper spray, I think that is just plain reckless. Those people in this world that have the nerve and skill to stand in front of a charging grizzly with a gun and take it down successfully without being mauled are in the low minority. Pepper spray is a safe way for the average hiker, skilled hunter, or outdoorsman to give themselves a better chance not to be mauled or killed.

Ed Abbey's Wisdom once said,
If people persist in trespassing upon the grizzlies' territory, we must accept the fact that the grizzlies, from time to time, will harvest a few trespassers.