DNR: Radio-collared bears not off-limits to hunters
Radio-collared bears will continue to be fair game for hunters under a decision announced Monday by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr.
Ely bear researcher Lynn Rogers had sought a ruling from the DNR that would make it illegal for hunters to shoot radio-collared research bears
emblazoned with Day-Glo ribbons.
Rogers said he was "very disappointed, considering the very strong public opinion in favor of protection."
Rogers has had seven bears killed by hunters, five in the past six seasons. Last fall, Rogers had 14 bears radio-collared.
In making his decision, Landwehr said, "While Mr. Rogers' research is popular and interesting, it is not essential to managing bear populations in Minnesota."
Landwehr also said that offering protection of radio-collared bears would be largely unenforceable because hunters, in low-light conditions, could accidentally shoot a bear that was collared.
Wildlife belongs to all Minnesotans, Landwehr wrote in his statement, and that shouldn't pre-empt legal harvest.
The Minnesota Bear Guides Association, until January, had taken the position of not supporting protection of radio-collared bears. However, in mid-January, the association's board voted to support protection of collared bears, but only if they were fitted with brightly colored ear tags. Rogers objected to the ear-tag method of marking, preferring instead brightly colored ribbons of duct tape attached to the collar.
Research bears studied by Rogers and his staff have gained widespread exposure in the past 18 months, after a camera was placed in the den of Lily, one of the radio-collared bears. Thousands watched Lily and her newborn cub Hope last winter. This year, Lily gave birth to two more cubs with Hope in the den alongside her.
That popularity has helped the North American Bear Center in Ely to raise several hundred thousand dollars. Attendance at the center was up about 7,000 to 33,000 visitors this past year, Rogers said, an increase he attributes to the wide exposure Lily and Hope have received.
It is believed that online fans of the bears also contributed to Bearhead Lake State Park, near Rogers' study area, being named "America's Favorite Park" and Ely being named "America's Coolest Small Town."
Landwehr believes if radio-collared bears deserve protection, that's a decision for the state Legislature to make.
Current law makes it illegal to shoot a radio-collared bear accompanied by a researcher who identifies the bear as a research bear.
Rogers isn't sure yet whether he will seek legislative support for a more strict law, he said Monday.
"I'm not sure what to do," Rogers said. "Mostly I want to cooperate with the DNR and hunters and have the best relations I can have, and hope they respect the radio collars and the research enough to spare them."