Classrooms like the one Dana Coleman taught at Andover Elementary School may not be able to view black bears in the same way.
Ever since people from all over the world watched Lily give birth to Hope Jan. 22, 2010 on a live den cam video feed, the Wildlife Research Institute in Ely has gained an international following for its research of black bears.
Coleman no longer teaches first grade at Andover Elementary, but she continues to advocate for Dr. Lynn Rogers and his associate researcher Sue Mansfield in their fight against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources because she saw how much her students in two years learned and how excited they got about science.
She was one of many supporters who questioned Gov. Mark Dayton’s handling of the situation during a news conference with DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.
“There’s no other way kids in the city are even going to come in contact with a bear to see how (the bears) react together and how the mother brings up her cubs,” said Coleman, who now is a clinical placement coordinator at Hamline University, St. Paul.
The DNR has issued a permit to Rogers since 1999 to radio collar and study black bears, but chose not to renew the permit this last time. Rogers was told to remove all radio collars by the end of July, but he spoke to Dayton and sued the DNR to advocate for continuing his work.
Ramsey County District Court Judge John Guthmann July 29 issued an injunction so Rogers can continue studying the 10 bears that have radio collars, but an administrative law judge will review this case over the next six to nine months to determine the Wildlife Research Institute’s permit status.
For now, no more bears can get radio collars and the live video feeds must stop.
“The losers due to the DNR action are the thousands of people who want to learn about bears,” Rogers said, who claims that the DNR has been trying to build a case against him and had no legitimate reasons for denying his permit renewal request.
Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager, said people have accused the DNR of being jealous of the attention Rogers is getting. He said nothing could be further from the truth and nobody is entitled to a permit to study animals.
The DNR is concerned about public safety that it says comes from the hand-feeding and close contact that Rogers, his research team and others have with the bears. The judge placed restrictions that will only allow Rogers, Mansfield and four additional researchers to touch or hand-feed the bears from now on.
“We have bears exhibiting behavior we don’t see anywhere else,” Cornicelli said, alluding to complaints of bears walking up to vehicles and breaking into houses.
Rogers said “there’s not a public safety issue” with regards to bears attacking people because of them getting more comfortable being around people and questions the legitimacy of the complaints the DNR is bringing forward. He said the Eagles Nest Township community near the Wildlife Research Institute has coexisted peacefully with the bears for many years.
Cornicelli said another concern of the DNR is that Rogers has not been the chief author of enough peer-review research in recent years.
When asked about some of the most recent entries Rogers for which provided a list, Cornicelli said a couple of examples were “invited talks” at conferences that did not meet the DNR standards and a 2011 study on diversionary feeding that utilized data collected from 1989 to 1991, Cornicelli said.
Rogers said he has been the senior author on more peer review papers on black bears than anyone in the world.
He provided two pages of more recent examples, which included everything from poster, to journal articles to books.
Coleman’s class during the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years did more than watch bears hibernating. Students read journal entries from Rogers and read material from other authors about black bears.
Coleman remembers a parent telling her about how excited and knowledgeable her daughter was during a trip to the North American Bear Center in Ely.
“You want kids to be excited about something. Who knows what will come of it. She could be a researcher, or veterinarian or biologist because of this,” Coleman said.
While the Wildlife Research Institute will still be able to provide the written documents and video from the two den cameras, Coleman said there is no substitution for students being able to view a live den cam video feed on the Internet.
Coleman said many of her kids and adults as well learn best visually and the den cam is just another tool. They could see that the cubs nursing during hibernation and see that they stay close to the den in the early spring after waking from hibernation while the mother shows her cubs how to protect themselves.
Cornicelli questions how much classrooms can learn from the den cams alone considering how the bears would be hibernating during much of the school year. He said the Wildlife Research Institute can still post videos and other research material on its website.
Without the live video feed, Rogers said it will be almost impossible for people to ever see this footage because he does not have the staffing resources to devote to creating DVDs. His main focus has always been his research.
“There’s only a couple of us and we’re trying to research and publish,” Rogers said. “If we have to somehow make 500 DVDs and mail them out on a daily basis, we wouldn’t be doing anything else.”
Coleman’s Andover Elementary class was able to connect with a Scottish girl and a North Carolina teacher through their mutual interest in the black bears. The teacher even traveled to Minnesota and brought $300 worth of educational material about black bears.
The students were heartbroken when a cub named Jason died April 12, 2011, but this was an opportunity for Coleman to talk with the students about death.
Hope, the first cub of Lily’s to gain Internet famed, was killed by a hunter at the age of two. Many people had written the DNR to ask that it be illegal for hunters to shoot these bears, but the DNR declined to protect these research bears any more than other bears.
While Rogers is anxious to have Landwehr be cross-examined by the administrative judge for the accusations the DNR is making, he cannot wait for this distraction to be behind him.
“I’m 74 years old and every year I end up getting distracted by the DNR putting this stuff on me in one way or another,” Rogers said. “The DNR just wants to stymie us in every way they can.”
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]