The best surprise was when I opened the magazine and saw my friend Bob Leverett, co-founder of the Eastern Native Tree Society. His goal for the organization is to find unusual old growth forests worthy of protection and to learn the stories behind unusually big or old trees. Recent examples are a 2,629-year-old Bald Cypress in South Carolina and a 175' 9" tall white pine in Massachusetts. The white pine is in a grove of unusually tall white pines called the ‘Trees of Peace.’
This story starts when I got a call from Bob back in 2000 and had no idea how much would come from our meeting. He had heard of the White Pines Society and wanted to know more. As we talked, I felt his passion for trees and a special connection through our mutual love of white pines.
At the end of the conversation, he asked if I studied anything other than white pines. “I study bears,” I said, and that the bears was what made me connect so strongly to these trees. We had already talked about how important these trees are to eagles, ospreys, and many other species at different stages of their life and death. Bears excited him. “Hey,” he said, “Would you want to come to Massachusetts and give talks at universities?” Educating the public was something I very much wanted to do. “Yes,” I answered, having no idea what was about to unfold. We both discovered how much the public wanted to learn about bears. Bob set up talks at several Massachusetts colleges and universities. Students were interested, and the word spread. For the next three years, Bob’s friends across New England set up schedules in each of the seven states and handed me off to each state in turn. Some were Ivy League. Some I’d not heard of. It was an opportunity beyond my dreams.
But I have to credit my friend videographer Mark Peterson for the success of it all. He had steered me in the right direction after I gave what I thought was a good scientific talk at the University of Minnesota. As he was putting away his video equipment, I asked him what he thought. Mark, a friend to this day, tells things straight out. He is open, honest, and frank, but I did not expect his answer. “Frankly, Lynn, it sucked!” I asked what it should have been. He said, “What I want to know from someone who has spent time with bears is what they’re really like. What you told was maybe something I might read in a book.”
I took his advice. I put together a talk, gave it a few times, and took out the parts that made people rustle in their seats. I had what people wanted to know, and it led to my learning what I needed to know. After hearing the same questions wherever I went, I knew what the theme of the North American Bear Center had to be.
Along the way another opportunity developed which I also cannot take credit for. A group of educators in Alaska called and asked if I would be open to doing a black bear field course for people who would come to the Wildlife Research Institute for several days to eat, sleep, and be immersed in bears. We did it in 2003, and I wanted it to go on. What I saw was how the bears stole people’s hearts, turning them into missionaries who would spread what they learned in their home areas. As the courses grew, I no longer had time for travel and devoted my time to the courses and to making the Bear Center a reality. With the help of many, it opened on May 5, 2007. We all worked to make it what Popular Science magazine ranked one of the top 50 science centers in the nation this past June. Looking back, I am thankful to so many for all that has happened. Looking back, I can see how much of this grew out of the call from Bob Leverett and the advice from Mark Peterson.
Other breakthroughs along the way happened in much the same way, with perhaps the biggest beginning with the den cams and the Lily and Hope study that began in 2010. You know that story. There is more to come.
Thank you for all you do and have done to bring us all to where we are today.
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center
Wildlife Research Institute
145 West Conan Street
Ely, Minnesota 55731 USA