Appeals court upholds DNR decision to deny permit to bear researcher

0
68519
views

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 MPR’s statewide radio network or online at

www.mprnews.org.