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Appeals court upholds DNR decision to deny permit to bear researcher
Tuesday, August 04 2015
 
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 said.

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 public."

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 Court.

But he suspects his plan to place cameras in bear dens later this year also could become the subject of litigation.

"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?"

Minnesota Public Radio News can be heard on MPRís statewide radio network or online at www.mprnews.org.

 


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