CODY — A lab analysis has confirmed that a bear shot dead early Saturday morning near the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park is the one that fatally mauled a man Thursday afternoon in the same area.
The adult male grizzly bear had been snared and tranquilized by federal researchers Thursday morning and fitted with a radio collar before being released.
Erwin Frank Evert, 70, of Park Ridge, Ill., was found dead at the capture site Thursday after the bear was released. Evert ignored warning signs posted advising hikers to avoid the area because of the likelihood of a dangerous bear encounter.
Wildlife officials used a helicopter and radio tracking gear to locate and shoot the bear Saturday morning, after making unsuccessful attempts Friday to catch it.
Rapid DNA testing of genetic material from the bear that was left on the victim matched blood drawn from the bear when it was tranquilized Thursday, said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Servheen said he decided late Friday to authorize killing the bear if it could not be captured, because experts could not definitively determine whether the animal’s actions were natural and defensive or aberrant and unusually aggressive.
“We regret the whole idea of having to remove a bear, but we just wanted to be sure. I stand by that decision to remove him,” Servheen said.
Servheen said the bear was initially near a road where it might have been captured, but it later began moving deeper into the wilderness, where it could later shed its radio collar and become exceptionally difficult to locate.
Servheen said he and other agency officials agreed that “the best thing to do for the safety of the public is to remove the bear.”
The U.S. Forest Service is now expected to reopen the Kitty Creek area, about seven miles east of Yellowstone, where the attack occurred. The area had been closed as a public safety precaution until it could be determined that the bear involved in the mauling was either not a threat or dead.
Friends and wildlife officials have said that Evert, a botanist who owned a cabin at Kitty Creek, was well aware of the risks of entering the capture area, but that he was curious about work being done there, and ignored verbal and posted warnings.
The incident is the first fatal mauling by a grizzly bear in the area in 25 years, and the first such fatal attack to take place at a site where researchers had recently trapped and released a bear.
Servheen said the U.S. Geological Survey crew from Bozeman that had been trapping bears in the area has left. The bear that killed Evert was the last one they had sought to capture.
Authorities will later complete a comprehensive incident report, but an initial review indicates that there were no obvious signs that researchers failed to follow standard trapping protocols, Servheen said.
“We try to do everything we can to minimize the risks. But we can’t protect ourselves against people that ignore every warning we give, and we can’t protect people against themselves,” he said.
“The whole thing is regrettable; just one tragedy followed by another,” Servheen said.
Evert was a research field botanist working for the Morton Arboretum in Chicago. He also worked as a research associate at the Rocky Mountain Herbarium at the University of Wyoming.
He had just published “Vascular Plants of the Greater Yellowstone Area,” a book offering an exhaustive catalog of native plants, including a series of annotated maps.
Evert and his wife, Yolanda, had spent summers at their Kitty Creek cabin for the past 30 years, according to family friend and professional colleague Chuck Neal, a retired ecologist and author of “Grizzlies in the Mist.”
“It really was his life’s work, so it’s good, and I’m grateful that he got to see that published,” Neal said of the book.
Neal described Evert as “a committed man who could focus like a laser beam on his goal.”
Neal, a survivor of several close encounters with grizzlies, said Evert had called him last week asking about a sign posted near Kitty Creek warning about bear-trapping activities, and that Evert was “absolutely aware” of the risks of hiking in the area.
Evert called his daughter early Thursday and described to her the route he planned to take from his cabin to the capture site, and it “was kind of his favorite route for light hiking,” but it did not follow the main trail, Neal said.
Persistent windy conditions around Cody over the past week made it a particularly dangerous time for hiking in grizzly country, he said.
Bears are unable to easily hear or smell people approaching under such blustery conditions, and are more likely to be surprised, eliciting a defensive response.
Evert was not armed and was not carrying bear spray when he was attacked, according to information released by the Park County Sheriff’s Office.
“I’m thinking it had to be a close-range, surprise encounter,” Neal said.
He said bear spray or a gun “may not have done any good” in such an attack.
Neal said the incident was the result of “incredible bad luck, and also bad judgment.”
“He was an extraordinary man who made a very ordinary mistake,” Neal said.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at email@example.com or 307-527-7250.