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Judge: No permits for Ely bear researcher, but can continue some work

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A judge has sided against Ely bear researcher Lynn Rogers in his permit fight against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) – but also said he could continue using some of his research methods.

The 69-page ruling by Chief Administrative Judge Tammy Prust was posted on Minnesota's Office of administrative Hearings website Tuesday.

The judge concluded that the DNR's decision to withdraw Rogers' bear research permit should be upheld, meaning he must stop collaring bears, intentionally and repeatedly handling them, and visiting their dens, as those acts are prohibited in Minnesota without a permit.

What Rogers can continue to do, however, is feed bears at the Wildlife Research Institute; he can continue to "educate the public" through field study courses, and use already-filmed footage from bear dens in academic and educational settings. He can also ("for some period of time," Prust noted) continue to walk with, rest with, observe and take notes on the bears who have already gotten used to his presence. And if he encounters a bear in the woods, he can approach it and follow "as the bear allows."

The Duluth News Tribune reports Prust found some of Roger's behavior with the animals – including punching, dancing, kissing and mouth-feeding them – violated the respect for their nature that state law tries to enforce.

The report is only a recommendation, not a final decision – the DNR commissioner will appoint someone to make a final decision regarding Rogers' bear research. Rogers, FOX 21 points out, would have the ability to appeal that decision.

The Debate

Rogers has been studying bears for more than 40 years, gaining worldwide praise and attention for his work with the animals. More recently, the research center’s website has attracted more than 6 million visitors that followed black bear “Lily” and her cubs. The mother bear gave birth to twins earlier this year with thousands of viewers watching online.

But in the summer of 2013, the DNR took away some of his permits.

The DNR says Rogers’ methods, including hand-feeding the bears, have caused the animals to lose their fear of humans and become a public safety threat to Ely residents. The department also says Rogers didn’t produce the amount of required published research that is required in his permit.

Rogers, however, says the DNR’s claims are unfounded, and is accusing the DNR of falsifying bear complaints to turn the public against his research.

Rogers met with Dayton the next month, but got little help. Shortly after he filed a lawsuit against the DNR, before coming to something of a compromise with the agency that allowed him to continue his work in a scaled-back manner.

In February of 2014, Prust began hearing Rogers' arguments to have his permits reinstated. That lasted for weeks, and her recommendation was published Tuesday.

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