Methods of research under firePublished 10:14am Wednesday, February 26, 2014
ST. PAUL — State wildlife officials told a judge Monday that a bear researcher working in northern Minnesota is unprofessional and endangering public safety by feeding bears, but attorneys for the researcher said he’s unfairly being targeted because of past disagreements with the state.
An administrative law judge heard the testimony as part of a review of Lynn Rogers’s research methods. At issue is a dispute between Rogers and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources over Rogers’ state permit to affix bears with radio collars.
The DNR declined to renew Rogers’ permit last year, alleging he was creating a public safety hazard by hand-feeding bears. Rogers sued but the case was settled with an agreement to proceed before an administrative law judge. In the interim, Rogers was allowed to maintain several collars on wild black bears but was ordered to cease with his popular “den cams,” which broadcast cubs’ births over the Internet.
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr was on the witness stand much of Monday, the first day of the proceedings. He acknowledged that feeding bears isn’t illegal in Minnesota, but he said that because his signature was on Rogers’ permit, he would personally feel responsible if anyone were harmed by a bear fed and habituated by Rogers.
Landwehr also denied an allegation by Rogers’ attorney that he clamped down on Rogers as retribution for Rogers’ support of a failed attempt in the Minnesota Legislature to make it illegal to shoot radio-collared bears.
Attorneys for the Ely-based researcher asserted that Rogers doesn’t need permission from the DNR to put radio collars on bears or install video cameras in their dens. Rogers’ attorney, David Marshall, alleged that Landwehr and other DNR officials frequently overstated the numbers of complaints emanating from Eagle’s Nest Township, the area between Tower and Ely where Rogers focuses his research.
“Shockingly, the DNR will admit that its field staff in the Eagle’s Nest area made up complaints,” Marshall said, highlighting a document on an overhead projector that appeared to show a DNR official acknowledging to a resident that a complaint had incorrectly been entered in the resident’s name. The DNR didn’t directly address this allegation Monday.
Dozens of potential witnesses and hundreds of exhibits — more than 800 for the DNR — are on tap for the proceeding, which could last more than a week. Chief Administrative Law Judge Tammy Pust will then issue a report, but the final decision on whether the DNR was justified in failing to renew Rogers’ permit will rest with the DNR. The agency says it will appoint a DNR official not affiliated with the dispute to make the final call.