The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 22, 2013

MN bear researcher gets no reprieve from governor

Associated Press

---- — ST. PAUL — Minnesota bear researcher Lynn Rogers remains under orders to remove radio collars from bears he's studying by the end of the month after a meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton and the state's natural resources commissioner Monday, but will be allowed to appeal.

"There will be an impartial court of appeals for Dr. Rogers," Dayton told reporters after the meeting, flanked by Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

A smiling Rogers said he was optimistic about reaching a solution when he spoke to reporters a few minutes earlier, but he said he was uncertain about what he needs to do next and did not mention the administrative appeals process that Dayton and Landwehr laid out.

"We're hoping that we can work things out with the state to continue to research. We didn't achieve that today but we're all doing what we can going forward," Rogers said.

But Landwehr stressed he has no plans to lift his decision to rescind Rogers' permit for tracking collars on 10 bears in the Eagles Nest Lake area near Ely, which expires July 31. The commissioner said there's usually no appeal from a permit decision, but that he decided last week to let Rogers present his case to an administrative law judge who could take testimony and evidence and then issue a recommendation.

"A permit is not an entitlement," he said. "A permit is a privilege provided by a commissioner to do research, and so I think an administrative law judge is a place where (one) can have an objective analysis."

Landwehr said he didn't know if such a process could be completed before Rogers' permit lapses. Proceedings before an administrative law judge usually take a long time.

The commissioner repeated the DNR's longstanding complaint that Rogers' practice of hand-feeding bears so he can gain their trust has made them too accustomed to humans, creating a threat to public safety. He also faulted the quality of the research Rogers has carried out under his DNR permit, saying Rogers has not presented evidence of any research he's published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal in 14 years.

Rogers disputed that his methods make bears unafraid of humans, and defended the scientific value of his work.

"The research today is the best I've ever done in my whole career," he said. He said he is combining older methods of observing bears with modern technology such as GPS tracking and cameras in bear dens. "I'm 74. I don't want to be distracted by anything that takes me off the focus of my research. ... In the next couple, three years the data is going to come together in such a wonderful way."

Rogers attracted a devoted following online when he installed a camera in the den of a bear named Lily. She gave birth live to a cub named Hope before a worldwide audience on the Internet in 2010, and then had two more cubs in 2011. His North American Bear Center museum in Ely is one of the area's top tourist attractions, and he retains a license to put captive bears on display there.

More than a dozen sign-waving supporters of Rogers and his research cheered as he walked into the Capitol and regrouped in the hall outside the governor's office to greet Rogers as he came out. They also peppered Landwehr and Dayton with questions that made their displeasure clear.

Terry Hagenah, a volunteer at Rogers' affiliated Wildlife Research Institute, who splits her time between Plymouth and Ely, said years of research would suffer without the ability to collar the bears to track them.

"If the collars are removed from the bears, the research is over," Hagenah said.

She said worries about bears becoming habituated are "overblown."

"You know how many people have been killed by black bears in Ely?" Hagenah said. "Zero."


Associated Press writer Brian Bakst contributed to this story.