House bill asks hunters to spare research bears

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 20, 2011 - 7:42 PM

Bill, which includes many other hunting and fishing changes, wouldn't outlaw killing the collared bears.

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Lynn Rogers, founder of the North American Bear Center in Ely, was able to approach Brave Heart, an eight-year-old black bear, last fall to change the batteries in her GPS collar and record her heart rate.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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Wild research black bears in Minnesota would be tagged with fluorescent ribbons and hunters would be asked to avoid shooting them under a bill passed by the Minnesota House this week.

But the bill wouldn't make it illegal for hunters to shoot research bears, even those with radio collars.

The Department of Natural Resources would be required to notify licensed bear hunters, in writing, about the location and nature of bear research where they hunt, and they would be asked to avoid shooting the bears.

"This language is just a very modest attempt to make hunters aware of the presence of these bears in an area where they may be hunting,'' said Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, whose proposal was amended to a large Game and Fish bill. "There is no penalty for a mistake.''

Some have pushed for a law protecting research bears after two bears collared by Ely researcher Lynn Rogers were killed by hunters last year. Though the animals were taken legally during the hunting season, the bears' deaths sparked outrage and anti-hunting sentiment.

Rogers himself and thousands of his supporters sought legislation making it illegal to shoot research bears, and he asked the DNR to protect them. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr declined, though he said he hoped hunters would voluntarily resist shooting research bears.

"Even in the name of research, individuals or groups shouldn't be allowed to pre-empt legal harvest,'' Landwehr said earlier. And hunters might have a difficult time seeing the collars or other identification before they shoot, he said. "We don't want to prosecute people for honest mistakes," he said.

Kahn said she agrees, but wants the DNR to take a more formal approach to helping protect the bears.

Rogers has collared about 14 bears, and the DNR has about 30 with collars.

A companion bill in the Senate doesn't contain the bear language, so a House-Senate conference committee likely will resolve the differences.

The same bill also has several wide-ranging provisions that would affect hunters and anglers. Among them:

•Open-water anglers could use two fishing lines, except while trolling. Currently, they can use just one line. That issue, too, has been controversial. The DNR, which opposes the change, has said it might have to revise fish limits if two lines are allowed.

•Disabled hunters and those 60 and older would be exempt from controversial antler-point restrictions imposed by the DNR in southeastern Minnesota last year. Those restrictions would expire after the 2012 deer hunting season, and the DNR couldn't reinstate them without legislative approval.

•A requirement that Minnesota's duck season begins on the Saturday nearest Oct. 1 would be removed, allowing the DNR to open the season a week earlier, as federal law allows. If the bill becomes law, next fall's duck season could open Sept. 24.

•The number of lakes where the DNR could impose special northern pike restrictions intended to boost the average size of those fish would be restricted to 90. The DNR, which opposes the bill, now has around 115 waters with special northern regulations. The agency says fishing groups and lake associations often have sought the regulations, and determining which to drop would be arbitrary.

•The current 16-foot deer-stand height restriction would be removed, allowing hunters to erect stands taller than that.

•A ban on spearing northerns on Cass Lake would be lifted.

•Counties could offer bounties on coyotes.

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