Residents at bear researcher’s ‘trial’ say no bear problems
ST. PAUL -- The wild black bears studied by Ely bear researcher Lynn Rogers aren't dangerous and don't cause problems, several property owners of a northern Minnesota community told an administrative law judge Tuesday. Their testimony contrasts w...
ST. PAUL -- The wild black bears studied by Ely bear researcher Lynn Rogers aren’t dangerous and don’t cause problems, several property owners of a northern Minnesota community told an administrative law judge Tuesday.
Their testimony contrasts with accounts last week by fellow property owners that bears around Eagle’s Nest Township between Ely and Tower had become so used to people -- and see people as a source of food -- that they sometimes won’t leave, even when hazed.
The differing accounts came during the second week of legal proceedings involving Rogers. In essence, Rogers’ controversial methods, which include feeding bears from his hand, are on trial.
Last year, the Department of Natural Resources refused to renew Rogers’ longstanding research permit to collar bears and install video cameras in their winter dens. Rogers challenged that decision, and the question of whether the DNR acted properly is being argued in front of Chief Administrative Law Judge Tammy Pust in St. Paul.
Last week, Pust heard the DNR’s case, including accounts from several people who own homes or cabins in Eagle’s Nest and related experiences where bears, often those with Rogers’ research collars, refused to leave garages, decks and driveways, sometimes with small children nearby, forcing them to change their lifestyles.
This week, Rogers’ attorney are presenting his side, and they’re calling witnesses who portray a different experience.
"I do what I do when I'm at the cabin,” said Sherry Hill, a Bemidji resident who spends weekends at a cabin in the Eagles Nest area, which has about 600 property owners. “I have things to get done and I get them done. ... My nieces play outside.”
Hill is among a number of residents of the area who feed bears. Hill said she often spends about $100 at Walmart on food like grapes and trail mix to feed to bears from a trough in her backyard.
Another resident, Charlie Meyer, said he began feeding bears the second day he spent in his cabin, in 1998. “We've always enjoyed feeding the wildlife wherever we lived, so it was just natural to feed the wildlife,” he said.
Such behavior flies in the face of advice by every state and provincial wildlife agency and the vast majority of wildlife biologists in the United States and Canada. It’s also against the advice of at least one part of Rogers’ website; yet Rogers’ also espouses the benefits of feeding bears to reduce human conflicts.
The feeding by residents of the Eagle’s Nest is a major reason Rogers said he chose the area to study -- to study the effects of feeding on black bears.
Rogers’ views and actions surrounding food and bears are at the center of the DNR’s case. Rogers also hand feeds bears as a way to build trust so he can walk with them in the woods. He says it’s to study them; the DNR alleges it’s to provide little more than entertainment to people who pay Rogers to attend his bear course.
Rogers also has fed bears food from his mouth and overseen at least one instance where a teenage boy did the same, according to undisputed evidence presented so far.
The DNR has accused Rogers of doing little actual science in the topic of food. Under questioning by attorneys representing the DNR, neither Hill nor Meyer recall being approached by Rogers to participate in his research on the effects of feeding. Meyer buys his bear food -- sunflower seeds -- from Rogers directly.
Also on Tuesday, two former bear course participants testified in support of Rogers. Roberta Sonnino, a vice dean at Wayne State University who specializes in scholarship, said she believes Rogers is performing science, although he hasn’t published anything in a peer-reviewed journal based on data from his current research permit. Thomas Wood, an associate professor of conservation studies at George Mason University, said Rogers’ ability to be close to wild bears without causing them stress offers “tremendous potential” for research.
On Tuesday morning, Pust denied a bid by Rogers to have the case dismissed, in part, on grounds that he doesn’t actually need a research permit to collar bears and install den cams. But Pust said the DNR had provided enough evidence so far that could establish that he, through his feedings, exerts enough control over the bears to require a permit.
One example she gave was based on a video the DNR presented of a scene on the deck of the cabin of Rogers’ Wildlife Research Institute:
“The individual wanted the bear to dance for the amusement of those gathered to watch, and the individual’s actions did in fact cause the bear to dance,” Pust wrote. “Therefore, a reasonable inference would be that the individual had constructive possession over the bear. The evidence of constructive possession would include the individual’s action of feeding the bear.”
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