On Monday, Ely black bear scientist Lynn Rogers met with Gov. Mark Dayton in an attempt by Rogers to have Dayton reverse the Department of Natural Resource’s decision to pull Rogers’ research permit. Dayton declined, but said the state would submit the matter to an administrative law judge for review. Rejecting that option, Rogers on Tuesday sued the DNR, saying its demand that Rogers remove his research collars from 10 bears by the end of this month — Wednesday at midnight — would harm him and his work irreparably. Rogers explains his position in the interview below.
Q: You’ve sued the DNR, asking for an injunction by Wednesday against the agency. What’s the basis of your claim?
A: That pulling our permit was uncalled for. The permit can be pulled only for “cause,” and there was no cause stated. There is no public safety issue with our collared bears. And I and my co-researcher, Sue Mansfield, are publishing results of our research. We gave DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr six peer-reviewed papers as examples.
Q: How many bears do you have fitted with radio collars?
A: Ten, one of which was collared for the first time this spring. Others have been collared as far back as 2001. We would probably have 17 bears collared, were it not for restrictions on our DNR permit starting last year. The first restriction cut us to 15 collared bears. Then it was 12. Under the current permit, if any of our bears loses a collar, we can’t put it back on. This limits what we can do and what we can publish.
Q: You concede the DNR has a right to be concerned about public safety regarding bears.
A: There’s nothing to suggest bears wearing our collars are a threat to public safety. People have been hand-feeding bears in this community for 50 years. There have been no attacks. In fact, in our meeting on Monday with the governor, Landwehr said public safety wouldn’t be an issue, if we were publishing more.
Q: But some neighbors have complained about your bears.
A: It’s our belief the DNR has intentionally stirred up the community, trying to build a record they can now cite. We believe the local DNR wildlife manager has been soliciting complaints, and urging residents to circulate a petition and have a resolution from our township board of supervisors, so he could “do something.” In the course of this a few complainers have arisen. We know at least one complaint against us was falsified, because the DNR has acknowledged as much. That’s why we say that publishing and public safety are not the real concerns behind this issue.
Q: But should people who live in your research area near Tower, Minn., expect to see collared bears in their yards, on their decks, in their driveways? Are you saying it’s just part of living there?
A: Generally, the community is nature-loving. People around here get used to seeing bears. Feeding isn’t something that started with our research. And yes, there will be an occasional bear sighted. For most people around here, that’s not a problem; it’s part of living here.
Part of what’s going on here is jealousy, because compared to our bear research and education programs, which receive widespread acceptance by the public, the DNR and its bear research receive little. The fact that Hope, our research bear, was killed by a hunter on Sept. 16, 2011 — legally and understandably, because she was uncollared — also stirred up many anti-DNR comments, and that angered the commissioner.
Along with our lawsuit is an affidavit from the chair of our township board’s bear committee saying there never have been bear-related public safety issues in the township, nor are there now.
Q: The commissioner says you’re not publishing peer-reviewed research, suggesting what you’re doing isn’t really research and therefore doesn’t qualify for a DNR permit.
A: The publishing claim is a smoke screen. Commissioner Landwehr first told us we needed to publish on our permit dated February 2012. Count the months since then. It’s not many. But in that time, we have published, once in the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation and once in the Journal of Human Wildlife Interactions. Those are the two peer-reviewed publications.
Q: Do you concede the DNR’s interest in publishing is fair?
A: No. That requirement has never been a requirement in any permit. Our permits are given to us for research and education. They’re just trying to pick out something they see as a weakness. We are doing the most bear education of the public ever. But the DNR seems to think we should be producing something according to their specifications, which they haven’t spelled out in the permit or its cover letter. There have been 13 documentaries made about my research during the course of my DNR permits, and no documentaries made about the DNR’s research. And those documentaries bring the kind of advertising to our area people that can’t be bought, and bring thousands of tourists here each year, too.
Q: Who is your lawyer?
A: David Marshall of Fredrikson & Byron in Minneapolis.
Q: How did you choose him?
A: One of our supporters recommended him.
Q: Obviously, given the detailed lawsuit you filed Tuesday, the day after your meeting with the governor, you planned to file suit all along.
A: Our position is the permit should only be pulled for cause, and there is no cause. The permit is for research and education, and we’ve done a combination of those that far exceeds what anyone else has done.
Q: What are you willing to change to keep your permit?
A: Recently we’ve reached out to collaborators to help us publish more quickly. We’ve enlisted the help of the world’s expert on home range data, for instance, Dr. Roger Powell, and also two experts of GPS analysis from New Mexico. They’ve been to our bear course and know us well, and have volunteered to help us with data. This stuff is coming together, and in the next couple of years it will really come together.
The DNR knows this. But they don’t want to hear any of it, because it doesn’t fit in their plan. That’s why we’re seeking injunctive relief until the court can examine the fairness or honesty of it.
Q: How do you allege you have been damaged by the DNR?
A: If we have to take the collars off of our bears by Thursday, our research is done. We’ll never find the bears again, and some of them likely will be killed during hunting season that otherwise wouldn’t be. Additionally, in trying to discredit our research, the DNR in turn is discrediting the North American Bear Center, and anything we might try to do in the future. Also, we are taking a modest salary, Sue and I, for our work, only $30,000 apiece. But it is a salary, from the black bear research courses. And by taking the permit away, we wouldn’t be able to show people any bears. Canceling our August courses alone would cost us $80,000.
Q: Who’s paying for the lawyer?
A: On our website, bearstudy.org, our “Lily” fans spontaneously started promoting a legal fund. We ended up putting a monitor on the website, showing how much has been contributed. In one day after we filed suit, we raised an additional $3,000, for a total of $30,000 (now $34,000).
We can’t fund this ourselves. But there are thousands of people out there around the world who will.