A Minnesota bear researcher with a following of admirers is generating controversy and legal action for his practice of hand-feeding wild bears.
The Department of Natural Resources is in court trying to rescind the research permits for Lynn Rogers, whose webcasts of bears in dens with cubs have become fixtures in some schools.
Rogers’ practice of hand-feeding bears taught the animals to see humans as a source of food, creating a risk to the public, DNR officials say.
The state wanted an agreement that allowed Rogers to continue his research but protected the public, said DNR spokesman Chris Niskanen.
At least one wildlife education expert is flabbergasted that wildlife experts from more state and federal agencies aren’t jumping on this case to condemn TV and web-based programs that attract huge public audiences with practices that ultimately threaten public safety.
“People are mauled every year because they don’t have an awareness of bears,” said Chuck Bartlebaugh of the Be Bear Aware Campaign based in Missoula. “Keeping bears wild is the best thing for people and the bears, but these cable TV personalities and some wildlife tour companies make lots of money by giving people the wrong impression.
“There is no more important time for a clear, concise, and consistent message about it being inappropriate to interact and feed bears.
“Timothy Treadwell was a Lynn Rogers follower. He got attention for kissing Alaska brown bears on the lips. He and his girlfriend assistant were killed and eaten by a bear with his camera recording it in Katmai National Park. Park officials let him operate in the park knowing what he was doing. The bear, of course, had to be shot.”
Minnesota and most states discourage bear-feeding rather than prohibiting it.
Minnesota DNR officials say they have received a rising number of complaints from neighbors in the Ely area, where Rogers operates, who had run-ins with bears that have lost their fear of humans.
The state challenged Rogers’ research permits for public safety. Rogers has been photographed hand-feeding his collared bears and even holding food in his mouth for bears to eat.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that guests at his Wildlife Research Institute camps pay $2,500 for a three-day stay and a chance to hand-feed collared and uncollared bears.
Jane Goodall’s befriending chimpanzees may have worked in the African rainforest, but it’s not appropriate with wild animals that encounter other members of the public, biologists said.
Rogers has a following of hundreds of thousands through social media and websites. The Star-Tribune reports supporters donated $600,000 to the Research Institute and the expansive North American Bear Center, which he heads, and that pleas have generated $42,000 in donations to help with legal costs in recent weeks.