Rogers gets meeting with guv; bear-research rule unchanged

St. Paul — A meeting with the governor of Minnesota, long sought by Ely black bear researcher Dr. Lynn Rogers, took place this Monday. The outcome, however, might not have been what the 74-year-old Rogers hoped for.

Back at the Wildlife Research Institute the next day, Rogers said the meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton lasted about an hour. But afterward, the bear expert still faced the prospect of removing radio collars from about 10 bears he’s studying, after the DNR earlier failed to renew his research permit after about a decade and a half.

“The outcome,” Rogers said, “was nothing that heads off ending our research.”

The DNR informed Rogers last month that his permit wouldn’t be renewed, meaning he’d need to remove collars from the bears he’s studying, and he’s not allowed to place web cams in bear dens, something that’s made a couple bears in particular so-called web sensations, especially when giving birth. The reasons for permit denial ranged from public safety issues to no peer-reviewed research from Rogers – a lack of results.

The DNR has, however, offered to let Rogers bring his case before an administrative law judge for “unbiased, third-party review,” according to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. That option was provided to Rogers last week, and, Landwehr said Tuesday, it appears the researcher is weighing his options.

Landwehr said an administrative law judge would render a recommendation to the DNR, and the commissioner would decide what to do at that point.

According to Landwehr, the collars must be removed from the research bears by July 31, and it’s highly unlikely an administrative law judge would hear arguments that soon. More likely, he said, it could take six to eight months.

Landwehr said it’s possible Rogers may seek a temporary injunction, allowing him to leave the collars on the bears for the time being, and to continue the research he’s been doing, including the web cams.

“Once the collars are off, it’s highly unlikely we would ever find the bears during this year of such good food that few bears are being seen at feeding stations,” the Wildlife Research Institute website stated earlier this week. “The few visits being made to feeding stations are in the middle of the night and seldom involve radio-collared bears. When natural food wanes during the six weeks of hunting season, the study bears, just like other bears, would visit bait stations.”

Rogers says he hasn’t decided his course of action.

“I gotta do something. I don’t know what,” he said Tuesday. “I’m only a biologist. I’m not built for this kind of stuff. I need to check out the options. This is in the realm of politics.”

Rogers, who has a loyal following of his bears and his research, thanks in no small part to the web cams, said he’s been contacted by attorneys interested in the situation. Local officials say the bear research has meant more tourism in the Ely area, and has been a boon to the local economy.

Rogers continues to dispute the DNR’s reasons for denying him the permit. While around a dozen bears currently have collars, the DNR estimates about 50 in the area have been targeted by his research, and many have become habituated to human presence. Officials also point to run-ins humans have had with bears in the area.

Regarding such incidents, Rogers states bear-related complaints are lower in that area than others within the range of bears in the state. Reported incidents have been overblown, he says.

Upon hearing about the complaints at an impromptu press conference Monday, Rogers said, “I thought, ‘what a lot of hype about nothing.’”

As far as human encounters with bears in the yards of local residents, he contends that happens in most areas where bears are present, and the DNR should advise people the same.

“If a person doesn’t want them, take down the bird feeder,” Rogers said. “Everybody knows that.”

Landwehr says it’s not that simple. Among other things, Rogers’ bears have been taught to eat from the hands of humans, and have been conditioned not to fear them.

“It’s setting up a situation some day with a poor kid and an ice cream cone in his hand … a bad situation,” Landwehr said.

While Rogers says he’s published the findings of his research, Landwehr said it’s not the kind of results the DNR expects from researchers with permits. Rogers’ findings must be peer-reviewed by experts in the field; what Rogers has produced so far, according to Landwehr, are commentaries and opinions, and a poster.

Rogers said he will present his findings to two prominent groups this fall, but again, Landwehr said that fails to qualify as peer-reviewed research.

The DNR also has said Rogers has displayed “extremely unprofessional behavior,” a claim based largely on a video in which Rogers is kneeling next to a dish from which a black bear is eating. At one point, the bear moves aggressively toward Rogers, who punches at the animal (it’s been disputed whether Rogers’ punch actually connects or not with the bear).

DNR officials say it shows that even a renowned researcher, who spends time with bears, can’t anticipate their behavior.

Landwehr called Rogers’ research a “challenging issue,” and admitted it hasn’t made him a popular public figure of late.

“I’m kind of seen as an ogre, but this is the right thing to do,” he said.

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