Citing a Wyoming law that protects landowners who allow outdoor recreation on their land, a federal judge has ruled against a woman who filed a wrongful death suit that blamed federal researchers after her husband was killed by a grizzly bear that had been tranquilized and released near the east gate of Yellowstone Park.

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal in Cheyenne issued a summary judgment in the civil case on Tuesday. Freudenthal dismissed the case “based upon Wyoming’s Recreational Use Act,” a state law that releases landowners from liability or obligations to warn non-paying recreation users in relation to potentially dangerous activities.

Erwin Evert, owner of a summer cabin in the Shoshone National Forest, had hiked along a trail near Kitty Creek on the afternoon of June 17, 2010. The 70-year-old botanist was mauled to death by an adult male grizzly bear that had just hours before been snared, tranquilized, collared and released by researchers with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.

Yolanda Evert sued the federal government, arguing that her husband died after hiking into an area where warning signs had been prematurely removed by study team members supervised by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Federal attorneys said researchers pulled the warning signs on the last day of their work after figuring that no one would be hiking in the remote area off the main trail during high winds and bad weather.

The case hinged on whether it should have been “obvious” to researchers that someone would have been hiking in the area, and whether they had a duty to warn hikers based on Wyoming’s Recreational Use Act.

Evert’s attorneys had argued that the study team had “willfully and negligently created a dangerous hazard by baiting, trapping and releasing” a grizzly bear less than a mile from cabins and near a trail, and that researchers failed to properly notify and warn cabin owners and the public.

Since the mauling, differing accounts emerged about how much Evert may have known about trapping efforts around the site where he was killed.

At least one of Evert’s friends said the botanist knew about dangerous bears and trapping efforts in the area, but his wife and daughter have said Evert didn’t know about trapping at the specific site where he was attacked.

Court documents and other sources confirm that Evert knew there was trapping in the general area.

Freudenthal cited the extended presence of additional warning signs along the main access trail leading to the incident cite in determining that “it was not obvious to the government that a hiker would intentionally follow their tracks” to the site where the bear was released.

Wildlife officials, uncertain whether the bear’s aggression toward Evert was natural or aberrant, tried without success to recapture it, and shot it dead from a helicopter two days after the mauling.

Researchers studying grizzly bears previously did publicize their trapping operations. But officials changed that policy after Evert’s death, and send advance notices to regional media outlets.

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team was established in 1973 to collaboratively monitor and manage bears across state and jurisdictional boundaries. The group’s work to gather data on protected bears is part of a long-term research effort required under the Endangered Species Act to help wildlife managers guide agency efforts to assist in the recovery of regional grizzly bear populations.

(Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or ruffin@yellowstonegate.com.)

(9) comments

bonnfire-

Leghorn-iget it you think govt and agents should pay. Problem is, you keep mixing intentional. or malicious acts and negligence. They are not the same under the law, including the Wyoming law in question. I assume you understand tagging bears in forest is dangerous. So is hiking off trail in the forest. From what I read, no one intentionally or maliciously put this man in harm 's way. Thus plain negligence was issue and no duty to warn under Wyoming law. Thus no duty at all thus dismissal. Judge heard / read facts and did not get past negligence. Irony is many Wyomingites think state should tell feds how to run federal land in this state -then case dumped based on state law. System does 't always work. As I said before, state legislature wrote law so maybe you should have them "fix " it. Best of luck.

James Leghorn

Bonfire - "willful" 1: governed by will without regard to reason 2: done deliberately: intentionally or voluntarily.
“”Willful failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity; ””

This dangerous condition was brought on by the negligence, carelessness, and incompetence of these researchers and their project and their total disregard for the welfare of the public in the expedience of removing any of the warning signs or by not closing the area to human access until such time that their research and trapping effort was not an attractant for future conflict with grizzly bears in the area. Another question is why this particular grizzly bear was still in the area after being released, was he still looking for a food reward or was the effects of being tranquilized the reason?
No uncle Sam should not pay for everything in my world, the sorry part is that uncle Sam is all of us! But that still does not absolve the government or its employees or these researchers from negligence.

bonnfire-

Foghorn-get a dictionary "willfull and malicious" are not the same as negligence.sound like you sheparded some flawed legislation or you didn't understand what you are now patting yourself on the back for. Is uncle Sam to pay for everything in your world?

James Leghorn

Hey bonfire - I am very familiar with the Wyoming Recreational Use Statute since I was an original proponent and was there at its inception along with Steve Duerr and helped walk it through the Wyoming legislature. I am also aware of the inherent risk clause in the act. At the same time the law does not excuse negligence which is what happened with these researchers and their trapping project.

34-19-105. When landowner's liability not limited
(i) For willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity

James Leghorn

Hey bonfire - I am very familiar with the Wyoming Recreational Use Statute since I am a proponent and was there at its inception along with Steve Duerr and helped walk it through the Wyoming legislature. I am also aware of the inherent risk clause in the act. At the same time the law does not excuse negligence which is what happened with these researchers and their trapping project.

34-19-105. When landowner's liability not limited
(i) For willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity

bonnfire-

Hey foghorn Leghorn - your beef is not with the judge, Wyoming legislature drafted the law sayingno obligation to warn. It's the politicians who shut the door on this suit.

James Leghorn

I strongly disagree with the Judge in this case, there was extreme negligence on the part of the government and the folks involved in this project in how they left the trapping site, what is a normal practice in other areas and by other government agencies is that the area is closed and posted that way for a number of days or even weeks after a possible dangerous situation exists.

Wyoming1

Finally a judge with some common sense

Dave Buckles

Good judgement.

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