Difficult Decision – UPDATE June 29, 2014

AsterAster  We have removed radio-collars from the research bears.

Mike, Lynn, Lorie, Sue - by JimMike, Lynn, Lorie, Sue
photo by Jim Stroner
This was not a decision we came to easily.  The DNR restrictions during the last two years—coupled with the loss of key research bears—have severely limited our ability to collect scientific data.  The restrictions came when a combination of new technology and long data histories on key bears were providing data never before possible.  Through den cams, GPS technology, videos, and daily updates, we enabled the public and professionals to learn along with us.  There was much more to learn.

Juliet's collar removedJuliet's collar removedBecause the key bears were irreplaceable in our lifetimes, we asked DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr in early 2011 for protection of radio-collared bears.  As the legal permit appeal process revealed, our request and the supporting letters we requested from Lily Fans simply angered him.  We thought we were giving him support for issuing a Commissioner's Order similar to a protection order another commissioner had issued in 1990.  However, his anger led to the punitive restrictions that ruined our project and a decision in early 2011 to create a case to sway the public in the DNR's favor.  There was and is no public safety issue.

Jewel sniffs her collarJewel sniffs her collarLegal testimony during the permit appeal process confirmed the extent to which DNR officials have been targeting study bears with their complaint data and the extent to which they were complicit in the shootings of key research bears during hunting season.  Removing collars now will allow the neck hair to regrow by the end of the summer.  We believe the bears are safer without collars now while we wait for a DNR decision on our permit and, if necessary, a legal appeal.

Lily's collar removedLily's collar removedThe Court ruled against us, but the Court’s conclusions were based, in part, on legal analyses that are directly inconsistent with established Minnesota law.

Given the situation, we feel we can do the most good for bears by concentrating on getting the data we have out through scientific publications, books, field courses, our websites, daily updates, etc.  Changing attitudes with scientific facts is how we can help the most bears in the long run.

Lynn combs Lily while Sue removes ticksLynn combs while Sue removes ticksRemoving Lily’s collar was the hardest emotionally.  With Lily sitting among us, we (Mike Johnson, Lorie Kennedy, Jim Stroner, and us) took pictures and shared memories of time spent with her.  Lily ignored our pulling ticks off her, but she obviously enjoyed a long session of combing her back and sides to rid her of the underfur she’s shedding.  What Lily was glad to be rid of, Lynn was glad to get as a memento.  He saved the fur in a Ziploc bag.  Finally, with no fanfare, Lily got up and returned to the cool, shady woods she had came to us from.

FaithFaithYesterday’s marathon bear day began at 6:25 AM with an appearance by Fern, who we haven’t seen this year because she lost her radio-collar in her den.  We can’t remember her ever visiting WRI before.  The day ended after a 6 PM visit to Aster who had been lying down in a patch of clover and pulling herself forward on her belly as she ate.

UrsulaUrsulaWhat we do with bears in the field will depend upon the upcoming DNR decision and the results of the possible appeal.  As hard as it was to remove the collars, we feel it was the best decision for these bears and all bears.  Our only hope for changing attitudes of wildlife officials towards bears and bear management is to publish our findings.  We plan to continue the updates.

Lynn with radio-collarsLynn with radio-collarsAs we change gears regarding field research, we look forward to all that we CAN do and are thankful for the strong support from family, Lily Fans, the City of Ely, Eagles Nest Community, and other friends, biologists, and supporters.  We envision big things to come.  On this day, though, we will enjoy the Black Bear Field Course a little more now that we are out from under the thumb of the DNR.

At the Bear Center, Holly and Lucky were chasing and playing.  We can't think of anything better we could have done for Holly and the 3 older bears than to introduce them, giving Holly life and the others new excitement.  We're glad to see how things are working out.  Will Honey ever surprise us by inviting Holly into her den after chasing her all summer?  We're waiting to see.

Our bittersweet day is being brightened by happy Lily Fans arriving for the Black Bear Field course.

Thank you for all you do.

—Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield, Biologists, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center

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