Family of Man Killed by Grizzly Alleges Government Negligence

A federal agency’s negligent removal of bear warning signs in the Kitty Creek area of the Shoshone National Forest led to the fatal grizzly bear mauling of a 70-year-old botanist last year, according to a lawsuit filed in Wyoming federal court by The Spence Law Firm, LLC.

The wrongful death lawsuit alleges the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST), responsible for long-term bear research in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, removed warning signs near the research site three days early and in violation of federal protocols.

Erwin Evert was killed on June 17, 2010 near the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park by an adult male grizzly bear that was captured, drugged and radio collared by U.S. Department of Interior personnel hours earlier. Mr. Evert had left his cabin for a walk approximately 30 minutes after the crew pulled their warning signs.

Mr. Evert’s widow, Yolanda Evert, and his daughter, Mara Domingue, are represented by The Spence Law Firm, LLC, of Jackson, Wyo.

Emily R. Rankin, a partner at The Spence Law Firm, LLC, said, “The purpose of this lawsuit will be to hold our government responsible for Erwin’s unnecessary death and ensure this does not happen again. This is not a situation where a random wild animal attacked a hiker. The bear was trapped for untold hours, drugged, antagonized and left to recover in an area frequented by residents without any warning whatsoever.”

Mr. Evert lived seasonally at his family’s Kitty Creek cabin, and frequented the trails and decommissioned roads near his home. The Everts split time between their Wyoming and Park Ridge, Ill. homes. Shortly before his death, Mr. Evert published Vascular Plants of the Greater Yellowstone Area: Annotated Catalog and Atlas, the result of nearly 40 summers spent researching the flora of the Greater Yellowstone area.

Ms. Rankin added, “Mr. Evert was unfairly blamed for contributing to his own death. Contrary to initial speculation, there were no bear warning signs for Mr. Evert to observe because the IGBST personnel negligently removed each and every sign on their way out of the trapping site.”

Yolanda Evert said, “Had warning signs been in place, Erwin absolutely would have observed them. He had safely worked and lived in the Kitty Creek area for decades before this incident. The government could have prevented this tragedy.”

According to IGBST permits: “Every possible precaution shall be taken to avoid confrontations between bears and the public, including but not limited to closure or signing of the study sites.” The lawsuit alleges IGBST field crew talked to residents of just one of 14 cabins in the trapping area despite the field crew’s twice-daily travel past the cabins.

Two days after Mr. Evert was killed, federal personnel shot and killed the bear, about two miles upstream from where the mauling occurred. Trapping crews were advised that day to “continue to carefully follow protocols for warning signs in the area of all capture operations before, during and after captures,” according to the lawsuit.

The case is “Yolanda Evert v. United States,” Case No. 11-CV-00339-NDF in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming.

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