Lynn Rogers’ research: DNR shouldn’t use exaggerations to deny permit for groundbreaking researcher
The Timberjay Newspapers
Wednesday, June 25, 2008 Volume 19, Issue 18
The Department of Natural Resources shouldn’t use exaggerated
concerns over public safety as an excuse to end decades of path-breaking
research on black bears in northeastern Minnesota.
As we report this week, the DNR has threatened to terminate the
research permit of Dr. Lynn Rogers as of June 30, unless a panel of
experts the agency plans to convene finds that Rogers’ research poses no
threat to the public.
Sadly, top DNR officials have weighed in prematurely on that issue.
In a Jan. 31 letter to Rogers, Fish and Wildlife Division Director Dave
Schad makes clear he’s found Rogers guilty even before the expert panel
has been convened. Writes Schad: “your actions and recommendations are
creating potential for public safety problems as well as jeopardizing
the safety of the bears themselves.”
Sounds like case closed, which leads us to wonder if the expert panel
is being formed to provide an objective assessment or simply political
cover for a decision that DNR officials almost certainly know will be
unpopular with the public.
The DNR has tangled with Rogers in the past and has regularly come
out on the losing end of public opinion, often with good reason. Just as
the agency shouldn’t play favorites in the decisions it makes in other
contexts, neither can it allow personal animosities or professional
rivalries to factor into decisions on who can and who can not conduct
scientific research in Minnesota.
Rogers is clearly qualified to do the research that has occupied his
professional life for more than 40 years. No one in the DNR can dispute
that. His groundbreaking approach, which allows him to work at close
proximity to wild bears, has without question greatly expanded our
scientific understanding of bear behavior. His work has brought
substantial public attention to bear conservation issues as well as to
That public attention has made Rogers’ research a positive thing for
bears, and for our area’s tourist economy. Rogers’ was instrumental in
development of the North American Bear Center (which is expected to
attract 50,000 visitors to the area this year) and his research forms
the basis of the center’s public outreach materials. Rogers’ work has
been subject of major documentaries in the past, and a new project by
the BBC, which is being filmed in the Ely area over the next several
months, will be broadcast to over 150 million people worldwide as part
of the BBC’s award-winning Planet Earth series.
Given Rogers’ credentials and popularity with the public at large, it
makes neither scientific, political, nor economic sense to put an
untimely end to his work.
The DNR’s concerns over public safety are overblown. The truth is,
the agency has no data whatsoever that suggests, much less proves, that
Rogers’ research is responsible for any nuisance activities or bear
habituation in Eagles Nest Township, where his work is based.
Rogers located his studies in the Eagles Nest area because residents
in the township had been feeding bears there for years and Rogers was
interested to determine whether such feeding made a difference in bear
behavior. The DNR claims that Rogers’ is habituating bears, but many of
the township’s bear were habituated to humans long before Rogers began
his research there about ten years ago.
Rogers was particularly interested to learn whether the
“diversionary” feeding of bears in the township could be a method of
reducing nuisance activity by bears— and his work suggests that it just
might be. Such a finding, of course, would be directly at odds with
official DNR policy on the subject, which doesn’t help Rogers’ standing
with the agency.
But that shouldn’t matter. The DNR is charged with issuing permits
for wildlife research, but it shouldn’t abuse that authority by denying
permits to qualified scientists simply because they find their
hypotheses inconvenient. Science needs to be an open process— not one
constrained by conventional wisdom or battles over turf.
The DNR should quit persecuting Rogers and let him study his bears in