ST. PAUL, Minn. - A renowned bear researcher known to hand-feed the animals and broadcast the birth of cubs over the Internet is losing his Minnesota permit to do his close-up research.
Thousands of people across the world watched as Lily the Black Bear gave birth to her cubs online in 2010. The wild phenomenon was thanks to a den cam and the work of Ely's premiere bear researcher, Dr. Lynn Rogers.
But soon the cameras that track the radio collared bears will go dark.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources informed Rogers on Friday that he wouldn't get a new permit to radio-collar wild bears or videotape them in their dens. Rogers has held this permit since 1999.
"This is the end of my 46 years of bear research. Unfortunately, it comes at a time in the most fruitful research I've ever done thanks to our ability to see the bears doing natural things and technology that allows us to get so much more," said Rogers, who said he's angry after long standing tensions with the agency.
In a letter to Rogers Friday morning, the DNR stated his habituation of bears to humans is posing a public safety issue.
"We have got some real concerns with the number of habituated bears on the landscape. At last count it's about 50," said Lou Cornicelli, Ph.D., who is the Minnesota DNR Wildlife research and policy manager.
Cornicelli said the bears are exhibiting behaviors unusual to bears in the rest of the state, comfortable in close proximity to people, entering cars and cabins.
"The bears will come and actually seek out people and approach them looking for food and we are seeking an increase in number of complaints from people in the Ely area," said Lt. Colonel Rodmen Smith, a DNR Assistant Director of Enforcement.
DNR researchers also claim Rogers didn't produce enough published scientific research, which was required in his permit.
"We do have expectations they are going to publish in peer reviewed journals and scientific literature, and we have been asking for that since 2008. We got really serious about it in the last two and a half years and it really just hasn't happened," said Cornicelli.
Rogers accuses the DNR of using unfounded allegations and falsified bear complaints to turn the public against his research, calling agency leaders disingenuous.
"They were doing everything they could along the way to end the research, prevent it from starting, restrict it and keep us from publishing. Some of it is old data, but the reason we haven't published more from this study is because they have hampered us in so many ways and prohibited us from data we were counting on," said Rogers.
Rogers says the DNR's decision isn't just a loss for wildlife, but also his life's work and the lifeblood of Ely. Rogers says his work draws 7,000 visitors to Ely each year and has been featured in 13 documentaries.
He has until July 31 to remove the collars. He still has a game farm permit for his North American Bear Center where he can continue education with captive bears.
"It is important to note that this was not an easy decision it wasn't one we made spur of the moment," said Cornicelli.
Cornicelli says the DNR's decision is final. Rogers has not yet decided if he will take any legal action.
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