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.