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Judge rules for U.S. government in fatal Wyoming bear attack

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - A judge has ruled the U.S. government cannot be held liable for a grizzly bear attack that killed a man hiking in Wyoming, just hours after the animal had been captured, collared and released by federal researchers.

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal this week rejected a $5 million wrongful death suit brought by the widow of Erwin Evert, 70, who was fatally mauled by the male grizzly in June 2010.

Evert's widow, Yolanda Evert, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Wyoming, claiming the federal government had failed to warn the family about trapping activities near their private vacation cabin in the Shoshone National Forest.

The judge's ruling was based on a Wyoming law that exempts landowners from any obligation to keep the area safe "or to give any warning of a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity."

That exemption applies when the landowner, in this case the federal government, does not charge a fee for recreational use. Evert was not charged for hiking in the national forest.

A 2010 probe of the mauling found 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.

The investigative report by federal and state agencies found Evert knew of the trapping operation and had been told by a friend to stay out of the forest.

Freudenthal concluded in her ruling that she could not find "the risk of bear mauling was known or obvious to Mr. Evert."

Wildlife officials shot the bear dead from a helicopter shortly after Evert was killed.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Todd Eastham)

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