Bear as in black bears, not bare politics. This concerns a bear researcher in northern Minnesota and the Department of Natural resources (DNR). It is on its way to becoming a national and even international story. (More)

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The North American Bear Center opened in the spring of 2007. Lynn Rogers Ph.D has been studying bears for over 40 years.

The mission of the non-profit North American Bear Center is to advance the long-term survival of bears worldwide by replacing misconceptions with scientific facts about bears, their role in ecosystems, and their relations with humans.

The Education Outreach Program was born in the den of a wild black bear near Ely, Minnesota. The bear, Lily, is part of the Wildlife Research Institute’s long-term study of black bear behavior and ecology. When researchers placed a webcam in her den on January 8, 2010, she immediately became a worldwide internet sensation. On January 22, tens of thousands watched as she gave birth to a 12-ounce cub named Hope. Soon, hundreds of thousands, including hundreds of classrooms, were following her life and the lives of her offspring through den cams, video, and daily research updates on bear.org.

The Department of Natural Resources pulled Rogers research permit effective the end of July. He must remove the radio collars from all bears not in his center.

After years of back-and-forth arguments between Rogers and the agency over Rogers’ motives and methods, top DNR officials say they moved now because the number of complaints about bear behavior near Rogers’ research bears “has grown intolerable.”

“It’s a public safety issue,” said Chris Niskanen, DNR communications director.

The DNR contends that Rogers’ research bears are habituated to people and human sources of food and have become a nuisance and danger to local residents and seasonal visitors. Agency officials also say his work is not helping add to the body of science about Minnesota black bears.

As recently as 2008, when the DNR asked impartial bear researchers to review Roger’s methods and data, several of them questioned the scientific value of Roger’s work.

So now Rogers has a legal defense fund on his website and an appeal for a meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton. I sent an email to the governor in support of the DNR. It is one thing for people from all over the country and several from other countries to become enamored with watching bear cubs be born on a webcam. It is an entirely different matter to have bears roaming into campgrounds and backyards with the expectation of being fed. This is the North Woods and bears are wild animals. This is not Disney or a circus.

Two of my friends agreed to feed Rogers’ bears and he provided the food. They basically lost the use of their yards and it took killing one bear and relocating another before they felt safe to go outside. After three years of not feeding, they still don’t feel comfortable. One campground still has a daily visit from a bear to the delight of some campers and the terror of others. Thankfully it is not the campground I host in.

Last summer a collared bear was killed after threatening a mom and her kids in their own garage.

“They sounded an air horn, also tried to use a stick to discourage it from coming closer, it simply refused to leave the residence.” said Chris Niskanen of the DNR. “That’s not normal bear behavior.”

And to be fair, here is what Rogers said, “We realized could put a collar on it without tranquilizers, so we did. It was just the sweetest bear.”

The Bear Picnic a couple of years ago had people who had driven to Ely from California, North Carolina and Texas to come to the Bear Center. A man from New Zealand took the U.S. night shift watching the webcam of a birthing bear “in case she needed help.” Bear webcam watchers from around the country and the world are signing petitions to let Rogers keep collaring bears. Rogers biggest gift may be internet marketing and not bear research in my opinion.

Campers and truly wild bears tend to avoid one another. This ‘studying’ the bears is turning the notion of wild life on its head. What does it mean to be wild? That is the question.