By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, Wyo (Reuters) - The widow of a man killed by a grizzly bear last year near Yellowstone National Park has sued the federal government, saying researchers were negligent in warning residents about trapping activities in the area.
Botanist Erwin Frank Evert, 70, of Illinois, was hiking a trail about 7 miles east of Yellowstone in June 2010 when he was attacked by an adult grizzly that had been snared, tranquilized, collared and released hours earlier by government scientists.
His wife, Yolanda Evert, claimed in a suit filed Tuesday that the researchers had failed to warn cabin owners in the Shoshone National Forest outside Cody of nearby bear-trapping activity, and that they did not follow established protocols for posting warning signs.
She is seeking $5 million in damages.
Wildlife officials, uncertain whether the grizzly's aggression toward Evert was natural or aberrant, tried without success to recapture the bear last year, then shot it dead from a helicopter two days later. Lab tests confirmed the animal was the bear that killed Evert.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court of Wyoming, said federal researchers twice saw Evert at his cabin but never warned him of their activities.
The suit alleges that members of the federal Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team spoke with residents of only one of the 14 cabins in the area during the three-week trapping period, and that researchers prematurely removed warning signs at the trap site where Evert was killed.
Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said on Wednesday he could not comment on pending litigation.
An interagency team established in 1973 and managed by the U.S. Geological Survey has conducted routine annual research on grizzly bear populations in the greater Yellowstone region.
Evert's death was the first and only fatal mauling in the United States involving a bear that had been trapped for research.
Though fatal grizzly encounters are rare, two hikers were killed this summer in separate incidents in Yellowstone Park.
An interagency probe of the Evert mauling determined last year that researchers had finished their work in the area and removed warning signs on their way out of the forest because the weather was bad and they believed no one would be hiking near the trap site. It was the bear released from that last site that killed Evert.
The investigative report recommended that in the future, signs at remote trapping locations remain posted for at least a day after the bear is known to have left the area.
Chuck Neal, a retired biologist in Cody who had frequently hiked with Evert, told Reuters last year that he had warned the botanist of research activities in the area, and urged him to stay out of the forest just days before the attack.
Neal said in June 2010 that Evert had called him one week before the mauling to ask about a sign posted in the area warning about bear-trapping activities, and that Evert was "absolutely aware" of the risks of hiking in the area.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)