Anderson: Ely bear researcher needs to end his battle with DNR

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 1, 2014 - 9:22 PM

Lynn Rogers needs to find other means than radio collars to do his work.

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Lynn Rogers, founder and Executive Director of the North American Bear Center in Ely, scans the woods near Ely trying to pick up a radio signal from Brave Heart, one of the collared black bears in his study.

The administrative law judge’s ruling this week that the Department of Natural Resources correctly exercised its authority when the agency revoked Ely researcher Lynn Rogers’ permit to place radio collars on bears should mark the end of the long-running dispute between him and the agency.

Should. But probably won’t.

An interesting guy, Rogers is in many ways a sympathetic figure.

I’ve known him since 1976, when I lived in Ely. At the time, he was a researcher with the U.S. Forest Service. But bears weren’t his only interest. He also studied deer, and managed to “walk’’ with some of them in the woods, as he eventually would with bears, gaining him fame in the process.

Rogers’ list of accomplishment is long, culminating in recent years with establishment of the North American Bear Center on the outskirts of Ely, financed with $1 million of his own money. Visitor receipts ultimately helped repay him (and his wife), and the center remains today an educational and well-appointed tourist attraction, as well it should.

Additionally, notwithstanding the at-times withering criticism by the DNR of Rogers’ methodologies, he stands at or near the head of a very short line of wildlife researchers who have successfully communicated with the public on a broad scale. Worldwide, many thousands of his “fans’’ revere him, and many more believe his work with bears, and his relationship with them, represents the future of wildlife science, and of human-animal interaction.

But it remains true that the bumpy road Rogers, 75, has sometimes traveled has been of his own making.

Case in point: Ultimately, the Forest Service and the DNR are bureaucracies run by bureaucrats with little tolerance for individualists such as Rogers. Had he sensed this reality more deftly over the years, he could have carved a more nuanced, accommodating and less conflict-filled relationship with both agencies. And perhaps saved himself a lot of grief.

Instead, like most who hear a calling others don’t, Rogers seems to color outside the lines whenever the spirit moves him. Such derring-do has helped achieve his many accomplishments. But it’s also put him, and more particularly, his career, in harm’s way over the years — the revocation of his research permit being the latest example.

If Rogers appeals this week’s ruling, as he has said he might, he could win — possibly.

But in DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, Rogers is banging heads with someone as stubborn as he is. And Landwehr has bureaucrats aplenty at his disposal, lawyers included, and the public’s money to pay them. If not by prevailing on appeal, Landwehr could win by promulgating new rules governing Rogers’ research.

Instead, this saga should end by Rogers declaring victory, and figuring out a way to move forward.

Yes, without the ability to collar bears, Rogers can’t consistently find the animals he’s studying as they roam the northwoods. What’s more, without the collars, Rogers’ study bears can’t be “called’’ to his side to have their blood and heart rates checked. And the Wildlife Management Institute that Rogers and his co-researcher, Sue Mansfield, operate separately from the bear center would have to reorganize and re-market itself, to attract the paying guests it has in recent summers.

All of which is achievable.

Unless, perhaps, you’re Rogers — and you believe, as he does, that your methodologies are as valid as those of DNR researchers. And believe as well your methodologies are more bear-friendly because, unlike DNR study bears that are tranquilized to have tests conducted, Rogers’ are “taught’’ to calmly munch hazelnuts while Rogers draws their blood or changes batteries on their collars.

Still, no one wins ’em all, as Rogers should realize.

He should realize as well that the administrative law judge who ruled this week got it right on at least one count: Rogers’ habituation of bears causes some residents who live near his research center to worry for their safety, as the animals sometimes roam near their homes, looking for handouts.

Rogers asserts the threats are more perceived than actual.

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