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.