DNR rules against Minnesota bear researcher

Diversionary feeding
Wildlife Research Institute biologist Lynn Rogers talks about diversionary feeding Thursday, August 30, 2012 near Ely, Minn.
Derek Montgomery / For MPR News

The state Department of Natural Resources has affirmed its decision to deny a permit to for putting radio collars on black bears to a Minnesota researcher who has gained international attention for his work.

In a decision announced Wednesday, DNR administrator Kent Lokkesmoe backed an administrative law judge who ruled in May that the state agency had the authority to refuse to renew Lynn Rogers' permit for collaring the bears. The DNR had cited concerns about public safety and conduct by Rogers that it considered unprofessional, such as hand-feeding bears to gain their trust. The department also questioned the validity of his research.

"Dr. Rogers is not precluded from feeing bears or interacting with them. Education about bears can continue. What he cannot do is radio-collar bears without a permit from the Department," Lokkesmoe wrote in the order, which was filed late Tuesday.

Rogers, who also has placed cameras in northern Minnesota bear dens to stream live video of births to huge international audiences online, said he had long expected the state agency to rule against him. He said that he now plans to ask the Minnesota Court of Appeals to review the decision.

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr made his agency's initial decision last year not to renew Rogers' permit. After a public outcry from the researcher's followers, he agreed to submit the case to an administrative law judge for a trial-like proceeding.

Chief Administrative Law Judge Tammy Pust found in May that the DNR had sufficient legal grounds for pulling Rogers' permit, saying his methods raised significant public safety concerns. Such rulings normally go back to an agency head for a final decision. That would have been Landwehr, but he appointed Lokkesmoe to handle the case instead because he had not been involved with the Rogers case previously.

DNR spokesman Chris Niskanen defended the process as fair, saying the conflict was resolved through testimony before two impartial decision-makers who "have spent innumerable hours reviewing, listening, looking through this case very carefully."

But Rogers questioned Lokkesmoe's impartiality, saying Landwehr had long wanted to pull his permit.

"We never figured that his administrator would rule against the big boss. ... We were up against something bigger than we could handle," Rogers said.

Rogers said he removed the last radio collars from his seven or eight remaining research bears between Tower and Ely this summer after Pust ruled against him. He said he acted out of concern for their safety because he believed hunters were deliberately targeting his collared bears. He said hunters usually killed about 5 percent of his collared bears a year, but that jumped to 30 percent as his dispute with the DNR intensified.

Rogers, who founded the North American Bear Center in Ely, a popular tourist attraction, said he'll keep studying bears as best he can. But he called it a "travesty" that the DNR won't let him place webcams in bear dens any longer. He said the video cameras posed no threat to public safety, but they taught thousands of schoolchildren around the country to like bears rather than hunt them.

Associated Press writer Jeff Baenen contributed to this story.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.