|Written by Dan Kraker, MPR News,
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A three-judge panel of the Minnesota
Court of Appeals has upheld a state agency's decision to keep
researcher Lynn Rogers from putting radio collars on black bears.
But Rogers is claiming partial victory,
saying the ruling allows him to once again place cameras in bear dens
to broadcast the hibernating animals over the Internet.
Two years ago, the state Department of
Natural Resources declined to renew Rogers' research permit to feed
bears in Eagles Nest Township to gain their trust so he could observe
their behavior. DNR officials argued that his work threatened public
safety by making the bears comfortable around humans and teaching
them that people can be a source of food.
At issue before the appeals court was
whether Rogers needed a DNR permit to place tracking collars on
bears. Rogers first applied for a research permit in 1999, and the
DNR granted him one.
In the court's ruling, Judge John
Rodenberg concluded that "feeding a bear and habituating it in
order to keep it in one place while a radio collar is affixed to it"
amounts to legal "possession" of the bear, which under
Minnesota law requires a permit.
DNR Communications Director Chris
Niskanen said the agency is "very satisfied" with the
court's decision. It "confirms the agency's belief that it's the
responsible agency for permitting wildlife research, and managing
wildlife populations," he said.
But Rogers also praised the ruling,
which stated that he does not need a DNR permit to place cameras in
bear dens while they are hibernating.
"I am just thrilled that the
judges saw the value of the den cams, and gave me the right to
broadcast them to the world again this winter," he said.
Rogers conceded that it would be more
difficult to find active bear dens without the use of radio tracking
collars. But he said he already knew the locations of many dens,
which bears often reuse.
Niskanen, of the DNR, said the court's
ruling does not take into account a Minnesota statute that prohibits
anyone from disturbing a wildlife den between Nov. 1 and April 1.
"Any placing of a camera that
would disturb a den would still come under that statute," he
Niskanen said Rogers could place
cameras in dens prior to Nov. 1, but said he could not adjust the
cameras after that date.
In the past, Niskanen, said "bears
have slobbered on the cameras," or bumped into them, requiring
Rogers to enter the dens to fix them.
Rogers has gained international fame
for his ability to walk alongside bears, lay next to them and pet
them, to intimately observe their behavior. But his work has raised
the ire of DNR officials. In court documents, they cited complaints
from residents who testified of bears approaching children, entering
garages and refusing to leave.
While Rogers is no longer able to
collar bears, he can still feed them to gain their trust. He
"continues to habituate and tame bears," Niskanen said. "We
still think this taming of wild animals poses a safety hazard to the
Earlier this year, the DNR backed
proposed state legislation that would have made it illegal to feed
bears. The bill failed to pass. Niskanen said the agency is still
weighing whether to pursue the legislation again.
For his part, Rogers said he's
considering whether to reapply to the DNR for a permit to place radio
collars on bears, or to appeal the decision to the Minnesota Supreme
But he suspects his plan to place
cameras in bear dens later this year also could become the subject of
"It's interesting to me how much
good for science, for education, for local tourism, comes out of
this," Rogers said. "Why does the DNR want to try to block
us at every turn?"
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