Rogers defends his bear research

Ely, Minn. — Monday was “media day” at the Wildlife Research Institute outside Ely, and Dr. Lynn Rogers answered the questions of reporters, including those regarding a research bear’s twin cubs.

Those bear twins had arrived just a couple days earlier. The sow, dubbed Lily by Rogers and his crew, lay on her back while birthing, which “differed from her previous births and from what we expected,” according to the WRI.

Rogers and his associates are well-known for their observatory research, during which they often mingle with their subjects, black bears.

Tuesday, Rogers had shifted his attention, at least temporarily, to a letter he, on behalf of the WRI, received from the DNR about a month ago. The letter informed him the number of bears he would be allowed to collar would be reduced, called into question the value of his research, and said his studied, habituated bears were causing problems in the Ely area.

The letter, from DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr and dated Dec. 21, also says that allegations of bear hunter harassment are taken “very seriously.”

Rogers said Tuesday he would be formulating a response to the DNR, but added that he’d like to handle the situation privately.

“This should not be a public debate,” he said.

Rogers said he’d like to include in the discussion Landwehr, members of the Legislature, the mayor (presumably, of Ely), and the state governor.

According to the DNR, which issues the collaring permits for animal study to persons like Rogers and institutions like the WRI, “We continue to be concerned about the lack of scientific publications resulting from your research. We have previously stated an expectation that you would begin to publish the results of your research in scientific journals so that it can be of use to other bear scientists and managers.

“Again this year, your supporting documentation for the permit has no mention of hypothesis testing, statistical tests, or other protocols that follow scientific method …” the letter said.

Rogers defended his methods on Tuesday. “They keep harping on research … that’s laboratory kind of research,” he said.

Rogers said he and his staff conduct “observatory” research, similar, he said, to that of Jane Goodall (who studied wild chimps), Brian Bertram (who studies lions of the Serengeti), and Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who studied elephants.

He said he doesn’t want to rush, and have to later correct, his research.

“If you run to publication before you have a decent sample size, then you just have to contradict yourself later,” he said. “I know what I’m doing when it comes to research and education.”

The DNR also mentioned in the letter the “pattern of unacceptable behavior by apparently habituated bears … is creating situations for local residents and visitors that they should not have to tolerate, and also has the potential to affect human safety.”

The DNR lists a number of incidents in the area regarding collared study bears.

“People are telling us that they are unable to enjoy their property or are in fear for their safety due to this intolerable behavior,” Landwehr’s letter says.

“This type of behavior is also not healthy for the bears because it subjects them to an increased chance of being killed.”

Rogers said the reduction to 12 permitted collared bears will limit his research. At one time, he said, he had up to 17 bears collared.

“This year, they decided to put the screws a little tighter (when the limit was reduced to 15),” he said. “Now, they said, ‘let’s make it 12 bears.’

“There is no reason for what they’re doing.”

Regarding the number of bears the WRI collars, Rogers said, “We collar no more than we can study well.”

The DNR “relaxed” the site visit provision of Rogers’ permit. For example, the letter said, “visits to place a trail camera (or listening device) will not be considered a visit under the provisions of this permit. However, any disturbance of the den or a bear in the den will be considered a visit and is subject to the provision.”

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