Editorial: Please do not feed the bears

Published 10:16 am Thursday, July 18, 2013

Humans and bears — even the relatively reclusive and shy black bears indigenous to Minnesota — make uneasy neighbors at best.

So it is little wonder that the state Department of Natural Resources has long been wary of the work of Lynn Rogers, who theorizes that feeding bears in populated areas cuts down on human-bear friction — a direct conflict with conventional bear management, which holds that fed bears grow too familiar with humans.

Rogers has built a broad base of admirers with his bear-den Internet feeds, but he has not swayed the people with the responsibility of managing Minnesota’s bear population. Birthing videos attract an audience, but the drudgery of publication advances knowledge.

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The DNR late last month declined to renew Rogers’ research permit. The agency cited both a lack of scholarly publication of his research and its growing concern about public safety as a growing number of bears in the Ely area no longer shy away from human contact.

Some of the DNR-Rogers dispute may be a matter of degree. The DNR says the researcher hasn’t published enough; he says he has. One might expect that a researcher whose very work goes so strongly against the grain of accepted practice would be focused on trying to demonstrate that the accepted practice is wrong, but Rogers has clearly appealed to a popular audience more than to authority. Certainly Rogers is not the only bear feeder in the Ely area; but he lends the practice an air of legitimacy.

The “a fed bear is a dead bear” approach may not have been scientifically tested, but it has the benefit of decades of anecdotal experience. It also avoids the practical hurdle that confronts Rogers’ theory: How does one negotiate boundaries with a bear? To a bruin, food is food, and its summer imperative (to gain the weight it needs to survive its winter dormancy) must be met.

Rogers is fighting to keep his permit, and Gov. Mark Dayton’s office has said the governor will consider his appeal. But it would seem the DNR has a good rationale for telling Rogers: Enough.

— Mankato Free Press, July 11