CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Two researchers who tranquilized and studied a grizzly bear hours before the animal killed a hiker near Yellowstone National Park removed warning signs as they left the site, an investigation has found.
A report released Monday also says the victim knew the researchers were studying bears less than a mile from his summer cabin, and expressed hope that he would meet them while hiking so he could ask them about their work.
Erwin Frank Evert, 70, a botanist from Park Ridge, Ill., went hiking the afternoon of June 17 from the summer cabin he owned about 6 miles from Yellowstone’s east gate. The 430-pound bear killed him where the bear, caught in a previously set snare, was studied that morning.
Authorities shot and killed the bear from a helicopter two days later.
The researchers are members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. Yellowstone grizzlies are listed as a threatened species and the team is responsible for monitoring their numbers and health.
The report recommends that the team adopt detailed standards for posting warning signs.
The report drew from interviews with and statements by the two study team researchers, Seth Thompson and Chad Dickinson, and interviews with and statements by others.
Thompson wrote that they took down the warning signs while they left the groggy bear. It was their last day of studying grizzlies in the area and they hadn’t seen any hikers in the drainage during their three weeks of work, he wrote.
The weather was brisk and snowy, he wrote.
“We also felt that the unfavorable weather conditions would curtail human activity that day,” Thompson wrote.
The researchers left the bear at 12:30 p.m. and Evert began hiking at 12:45 p.m., according to the report.
He was not carrying bear spray or a firearm, according to the report.
Around 6:15 p.m., Evert’s wife, Yolanda Evert, met Dickinson and Thompson after they’d returned to the trailhead and told them Evert was late getting back. Dickinson wrote that he rode a horse back to the trap site and found Evert face-down with significant head injuries.
Dickinson returned quickly to the trailhead.
“I was concerned for my own safety and was very convinced that Mr. Evert was indeed dead,” Dickinson wrote.
The report relayed accounts suggesting Evert put himself at risk despite being aware of the danger.
Evert had seen the warning signs while hiking yet expressed hope in the days before his death that he could “catch up with” the researchers and talk to them, said the report, drawing from a statement by a forest ranger who’d talked to Evert’s wife and daughter.
“They said he had a natural curiosity which was part of his personality as a scientist,” wrote Terry Root, a district ranger for Shoshone National Forest, where Evert was killed.
Evert apparently strayed half a mile uphill from his usual hiking route to reach the site where he was attacked, according to a map in the report showing Evert’s usual hiking “circuit” and the location of the research site.
Evert’s daughter, Mara Domingue, of Ventress, La., did not return a phone message seeking comment. Study team leader Chuck Schwartz, with the U.S. Geological Survey in Bozeman also did not return a phone message seeking comment.