Cyberspace has been abuzz since a hunter shot and killed a radio-collared research bear near Ely. The yearling bear is one of 14 that had been collared by Lynn Rogers at the North American Bear Center. Its death drew outrage from some people, though it apparently was legally taken during the hunting season.

The Department of Natural Resources asks hunters to spare collared bears, but it's not illegal to shoot them.

DNR officials are hoping a bear they have been studying for an incredible 29 years survives another hunting season. That bear, almost 37 years old, is possibly the oldest black bear ever recorded in the wild.

The bear, called simply No. 56, was first caught and outfitted with a radio collar in 1981, when she was 7. Since then, she's survived 29 hunting seasons and avoided cars on highways and clashes with rural residents. But a bear hunter recently photographed her on his remote trail camera feeding on bait he had placed in the woods.

"He called us right away," said Karen Noyce, a DNR bear researcher who has been studying No. 56 all these years. "I told him her story, and he said he wouldn't touch her. She's coming in [to the bait] about once a day, in the middle of the night, so hopefully she's safe if she stays at his bait. We'll keep our fingers crossed."

Noyce had speculated that No. 56 might have survived all these years because she avoided bait put out by hunters. "Now we know she doesn't always stay away from baits," Noyce said.

The bear is one of about 35 radio-collared by the DNR. Two have been killed by hunters this fall. Noyce said most hunters are cooperative with researchers and try to avoid shooting the collared bears.

Problem bears in BWCA

As any camper knows, once bears get a taste of camp food, they can become problems.

And that's what happened on Ensign Lake near Ely in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. A woman camper was nipped in the foot while in her sleeping bag recently by a problem bear that had been pilfering food packs from campers.

The camper's skin wasn't broken, but it likely was a frightening experience, said DNR conservation officer Marty Stage.

"There are four campsites [on Ensign Lake] where they've had trouble all summer long," Stage said. Occasional problem with bears are part of camping in the wilderness, he said. But this bear appeared to be getting far too aggressive. So Stage and officer John Velsvaag, both of Ely, paddled in with their rifles last week and set up camp on the same campsite where the woman was nipped.

Around midnight, the bear showed up.

"It definitely was very aggressive," Stage said. "It came in right by my sleeping bag, it did a false charge and was growling and moaning and clacking its teeth. It wanted my food no matter what. She wasn't coming to kill us, but she wasn't taking no for an answer. It absolutely needed to be destroyed."

The officers shot and killed the bear, a "well-fed and plump" sow that weighed about 260 pounds. "It was a shame, but she was way too aggressive," he said. "That bear had learned people were not a concern."

Stage said it's rare for conservation officers to have to go into the BWCA to kill a problem bear.

Ruffed grouse advocate

Ruffed grouse, often the No. 1 game bird in Minnesota, have been taken for granted. Though Minnesota is the top grouse state in the nation, rarely does the bird get much attention.

Now the DNR, in a rare partnership with a conservation group, has created a state ruffed grouse coordinator position. Ted Dick, an avid grouse hunter and veteran DNR wildlife biologist, has been hired for the job. The Ruffed Grouse Society will pay 30 percent of his salary.

"I think it's unprecedented," said Dick, 48, who moved from Baudette, where he was an assistant area wildlife supervisor, to Aitkin, where he will be stationed.

Dennis Simon, DNR wildlife management section chief, said the job is more of a grouse advocacy position. "We have biologists. We need to promote grouse hunting more."

Said Dick: "I'll try to improve hunting opportunities, communicate hunting opportunities [to the public] and work to make grouse hunting better and bring it to the forefront a little more."

There are hunter mentoring programs involving pheasants, waterfowl and turkeys, and Simon said it's possible Dick will develop a ruffed grouse program.

Turkey biologist retires

Gary Nelson, a longtime DNR wildlife biologist who was instrumental in the agency's wild turkey trap-and-transplant efforts, retired last week.

Nelson, 63, of St. Charles, was with the DNR 33 years. He worked with the National Wild Turkey Federation to trap wild turkeys in southeastern Minnesota and reintroduce them to other areas of the state. The birds now are found over the southern two-thirds of the state.

"He's the reason we have turkeys all over Minnesota," said the DNR's Dennis Simon. Nelson was area wildlife manager at the DNR's Whitewater officer.

Did you know?

• Remember, if you're heading out for ruffed grouse or other small game on Saturday, a visible portion of at least one article of clothing above the waist must be blaze orange. The only exceptions are if you are hunting wild turkeys, migratory birds, raccoons, predators, when hunting by falconry or while trapping.

• Iowa's pheasant situation is grim. The population is down 29 percent from last year and is at a record low. Iowa had one of the worst winters in state history, which was the fourth in a series of bad winters that have devastated pheasants. Officials expect hunters to bag just 150,000 to 200,000 this fall.

Doug Smith •