Researcher’s neighbors deny bear issue

Published 9:17 am Wednesday, March 5, 2014

ST. PAUL  — Neighbors of a Minnesota man who was denied a permit to continue his research told an administrative law judge Tuesday that the wild bears he studies aren’t dangerous and don’t cause problems.

Last year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources refused to renew researcher Lynn Rogers’ long-standing permit to collar bears and install den cams. Rogers challenged the decision, resulting in an administrative hearing.

Tuesday’s testimony contradicted accounts last week by fellow property owners that bears in Rogers’ research area around Eagle’s Nest Township between Ely and Tower had become so used to people— and came to see people as a source of food — that they sometimes won’t leave.

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Last week, the judge heard the DNR’s case, including accounts from several people who own homes or cabins and related experiences in which bears, often those with Rogers’ research collars, refused to leave garages, decks and driveways, sometimes with small children nearby.

This week, Rogers’ attorneys are calling witnesses who describe a different experience, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

“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 Eagle’s 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 neighbors who feed bears. She said she often spends about $100 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,” Meyer said.

The feeding by residents of Eagle’s Nest is a major reason Rogers said he chose the area 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 to attend Rogers’ bear course.

Also 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.

Chief Administrative Law Judge Tammy Pust on Tuesday declined to dismiss the case against Rogers.

An attorney for Rogers had argued that Rogers doesn’t need a permit to affix radio collars to wild black bears or put cameras in their dens. Rogers’ attorney said that because the researcher doesn’t possess or control the bears, and because it is not illegal to feed bears in Minnesota, Rogers should not be required to obtain a permit from the DNR.

But Pust denied Rogers’ request for a verdict against the department, ruling that evidence suggests Rogers does exert some control over the bears.