Minn. bear researcher Lynn Rogers wins temporary, partial reprieve

Searching for June
Wildlife Research Institute biologist Lynn Rogers hikes through the woods while trying to locate June, a 300-plus-pound pregnant black bear, near Ely, Minn in August 2012.
Derek Montgomery for MPR

Minnesota bear researcher Lynn Rogers won a temporary reprieve in court today that allows him to continue his controversial research.

Rogers and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources were in Ramsey County District Court in St. Paul Tuesday morning, squaring off over the DNR's decision to revoke Rogers's permit that lets him put radio collars on bears to study them.

After nearly four hours of meeting behind closed doors with Judge John Guthmann, the two sides settled on a temporary agreement that lets Rogers keep collars on the bears he has already collared.

Rogers, 74, is founder of the Wildlife Research Institute and the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minn. The agreement will allow him to continue his practice of hand feeding the animals around his research center -- but with new limits.

However, the agreement bans him from putting live den cams on the Internet, a practice that drew international attention to his work.

Under the terms of the deal the DNR made with Rogers:

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• Rogers and his colleagues are limited to hand feeding bears only in connection with changing and maintaining existing radio collars on bears, or changing their batteries
• Den cam video can be recorded for research, but can only be distributed by DVD to schools
• Schools cannot transmit that video over the internet
• Four previously scheduled field classes can go on and participants can observe hand feeding, but must stay at least 150 feet away
• Rogers must submit a monthly summary of his research data

Bear researcher Sue Mansfield
Bear researcher Sue Mansfield spoke after a Ramsey County District Court hearing on a permit issued to her colleague, Lynn Rogers.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

DNR officials question the academic value of those live feeds as well as Rogers' continued studies.

Chris Niskanen, a spokesman for the agency, said DNR officials don't think Rogers has published any recent rigorous scholarly research as a result of his state permit and that his practice of hand-feeding bears makes the animals a potential threat to public safety.

Niskanen said the agency still wants to revoke Rogers' research permit, which was set to end on Wednesday.

It is too early to tell what impact the new conditions will have, said Sue Mansfield, another researcher at Rogers' Wildlife Research Institute.

"It'll mean some changes, but we'll just adjust and do the best we can with what we've got," Mansfield said. "The important thing is that the collars are on."

However, Mansfield was particularly concerned that the live den cams have been banned.

"It's going to be a huge deal for the classrooms," she said. "There are classrooms across the country that have come to depend on the live footage and that will no longer be available."

The case is expected to go before a state administrative law judge in the next six to nine months for further consideration. It will then return to the DNR for consideration by one of the agency's senior managers who hasn't been previously involved in the Rogers matter.

Update: The DNR says the agency's decision is also subject to appeal to the state's appeals and supreme courts. But if the DNR chooses to revoke the permit, it would remain rescinded through the appeals process.