My best memories of decades past were opportunities to help bears or learn about them in unprecedented ways. This year is the 50-year anniversary of legislation being passed that freed Minnesota’s black bears from the cruelty and disrespect of being classified as varmints. Minnesota law allowed people to kill them in any number by any means at any time.
Improving bear management was why Wally and Mary Lee Dayton of the Dayton-Hudson-Target Store chain proposed that the University of Minnesota conduct scientific research that would move Minnesota beyond its consuming fear of bears and replace myths with scientific facts. Somehow, I was picked to carry the ball, and I never wanted anything more. Two things were needed—scientific data and public education. The professor who selected me gave me free reign to design and conduct Minnesota’s first bear field study and use the media coverage that resulted from it to change public attitudes.
Two top DNR wildlife officials were of similar minds. Wildlife Chief Roger Holmes and Fish and Wildlife Director David Vesall told me they had long thought Minnesota’s black bears deserved the respect of being protected big game animals, but they had been unable to pass the necessary legislation because people wanted the right to shoot bears on sight to protect themselves, their families, their livestock, and their crops. As a result, Minnesota’s bear population was decimated by decades of bounties and unrestricted killing. Hunting leader Dick Anderson was of a similar mind, as was Representative Cal Larson, a new legislator who wrote the bill that passed in early 1971. The team remained together. DNR officials Holmes and Vesall asked me to use my scientific data to show the direction bear management should take and to write new bear hunting regulations—regulations that reduced bear hunting from 52 weeks to six, protected bears in seasons when cubs were dependent on mother’s milk, and minimized the biggest problem of bear hunting—wounding loss.
Dick Anderson went on to create a Bear Hunter Education Program for the DNR that he ran for the rest of his life—over 30 years. His program further taught hunters how to minimize wounding loss and how to identify females in order to avoid shooting them.
Recognizing that people will not coexist with animals they fear, I continued educating the public throughout my career and saw both public fear and shootings by landowners decline.
The overall result was a quadrupling of Minnesota’s bear population.
Representative Cal Larson went on to work for good as a highly respected legislator whose career lasted 29 years. To this day, we point to the bear management legislation that we passed as a high point in our careers when we get together, as we did again earlier this year.
Other good memories from decades past occurred in 1991 and 2001, 20 and 30 years ago.
Thank you for all you do.
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center
Wildlife Research Institute
145 West Conan Street
Ely, Minnesota 55731 USA