Ely bear researcher Lynn Rogers takes DNR dispute to court

State says his bears are a risk to humans around Ely.

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Bear researcher Lynn Rogers

Photo: ELIZABETH FLORES, Star Tribune file

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Lynn Rogers, the controversial bear researcher who feeds his subjects by hand and teaches others to do the same, went to court Monday in an effort to win back his state research permit.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) refused to renew Rogers’ research permit last summer because, officials said, he failed to publish enough peer-reviewed research and was endangering the public around Ely by making the wild predators comfortable with people and teaching them to see humans as a source of food.

For 14 years, Rogers had hand-fed wild black bears in order to collar them with satellite tracking devices. He posted live Internet video feeds from their dens, attracting an international audience and more than 140,000 Facebook followers who got to know bears such as Lily and Hope on a first-name basis.

But his practices also became the focus of criticism by wildlife officials and residents of the area around Ely, where he conducts his studies and runs the North American Bear Center. Since 2009, the DNR has received 69 complaints from area residents, the agency said in court filings. In 2011, a group of 38 people signed a letter protesting the renewal of Rogers’ permit because, they said, his collared bears posed a risk to children and others.

Rogers denies that his bears are a risk: He said many people in the Ely area feed bears, and said there has never been a bear conflict that resulted in human injuries. He appealed the DNR’s decision to Gov. Mark Dayton, who refused to overrule it.

Last July Rogers filed suit, and this week an administrative law judge will hear the case. A ruling is expected in a week to 10 days.

In the meantime, the DNR and Rogers reached a temporary compromise, which has allowed Rogers to keep collars on 10 bears and keep video cameras in two dens.

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