Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday refused to allow controversial wildlife researcher Lynn Rogers to continue collaring wild bears near Ely, Minn., but said that the state will ask for an objective review of its decision by an administrative law judge.
In the meantime, the 10 or so collars that Rogers has placed on bears will have to come off, said Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The bears Rogers studies and feeds are a threat to people, and in 14 years he has not complied with his end of the deal by publishing peer-reviewed research from his efforts, Landwehr said.
“I will not sign a permit that creates a public safety issue,” Landwehr said Monday during a Capitol news conference, which was attended by about a dozen of Rogers’ sign-carrying supporters who shouted questions at Dayton and Landwehr.
Rogers, who met with Dayton previously, said he does not know yet what he will do.
He said he does not want to polarize his relationship with the DNR any further by filing a lawsuit. And he disputes the agency’s contention that his research bears are dangerous, or that his methods of feeding them by hand is making them a nuisance in the area.
He said he does not know whether he will participate in the six- to nine-month administrative review process that the DNR suggested.
“By that time the bears are dead,” he said. “It will be hunting season and they will have no collars to protect them.”
Rogers’ ability to habituate and “walk’’ with bears while studying them has rocketed him to superstar status. Supporting him are hundreds of thousands of Facebook, Twitter and Web devotees who watched the birth of a bear named Hope on one of his den cameras.
His supporters have donated $600,000 to two Ely nonprofits Rogers heads, the Wildlife Research Institute, and the expansive North American Bear Center, whose construction he personally funded in 2007 with a $1 million loan. The DNR will allow Rogers to continue educational programming through captive bears under an agency-approved game farm permit.
Over the years he has butted heads repeatedly with the DNR.
Hope was shot and killed by a hunter, but the DNR refused Rogers’ request to make collared bears off-limits during hunting season. DNR officers shot and killed another collared bear after it entered a garage with children inside and refused to leave even after residents used an air horn to try to scare it.
They say that his methods of feeding about 50 bears by hand in order to collar them and study them up close makes bears comfortable with people and teaches them to see people as a source of food.
Landwehr said that in the past two years the agency has received about two dozen complaints from local residents who have had run-ins with bears.
Now, some are becoming more public with their objections.
“These animals are not wild,” said Barb Soderberg, a retired U.S. Forest Service manager who lives about a mile from Rogers’ Wildlife Research Institute. “They are used to going to humans for food, and they are used to going to homes for food.”
She said that bears have stalked her while she walks, and destroyed the railing on the deck around her home. Her 85-year-old mother now refuses to visit because she encountered two bears on the road who refused to move even after she honked her car horn at them.
She also said that Rogers and his staff are running an establishment that is more of a resort than a research institute. Visitors pay $2,500 for a three-day stay and the chance to feed the bears, which can easily be found because of the GPS collars.
“It’s a moneymaker for him,” she said, but dangerous for bears and people.
Rogers said that he teaches courses about the bears at the research institute, often to teachers and other wildlife researchers. The money goes to support his nonprofits.
He said that Soderberg is “afraid of bears, and “now that she has backing of [the DNR] she can say these outlandish things.”
Rogers is not certain what will happen next. He said he’s going to consider his options. State officials say that those options include asking a district court for a temporary restraining order that would allow him to keep his collars on the bears and cameras in their dens. But like all permit disputes, any disagreement would be heard and decided by an administrative law judge.
The 74-year-old Rogers said that the conflict could not come at a worse time.
“I don’t want to get sidetracked,” he said. “You never know how many years you have left. I have to write books. I have to complete the research. Now things are coming together. Data is flowing in like never before.”