The Debate Around Lynn Rodgers and Feeding Bears

August 6, 2013

As some of you know, I visited Ely Minnesota to do a presentation as a fundraiser for the North American Bear Centre that was established there by Dr. Lynn Rodgers. I stayed at the Wildlife Research Institute (another Lynn Roger's establishment), that is out in the forest and is from where their research is conducted. It was a treat to finally meet Lynn's wife Donna who has worked very hard with him towards their goals over so many years.

As it turned out that week was a very critical time for Lynn and Donna because much of Lynn's life's research work seemed to be suddenly ending. On June 28th, the day of my presentation, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) did not renew the license for continuing his much needed research about feeding bears. This meant they had to take all the collars off their research bears by the end of July. If that would have happened it would have meant the end of 46 years of what I think is the most important studies ever done about bears.

Sue showing me around the North American Bear Centre   Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield doing telemetry to find June,
one of their most long studied bears.

There is so much misunderstanding around the research Lynn Rogers and his co researcher, Sue Mansfield are doing, that this news was devastating for me and as well as for thousands of people who have been following Lynn and the bear's lives that so many people have come to know intimately over the years. For instance the live images of web cameras, tens of thousands watched when famous Lily gave birth to two cubs in her den in the snowy wilds of mid winter Minnesota.

Every day Lynn and Sue and volunteers do voluminous work keeping track of the bear as well as keeping up a very comprehensive web site . There are also the Black Bear Field Courses put on in the summer and fall that, to quote from their site “are life-changing for anyone who fears bears, unforgettable for people who appreciate bears, and essential for professionals who deal with bear issues.” Then in the fall there is almost a frantic undertaking of attaching colorful ribbons to all the collars of their study bears to identify them so hunters are less likely so shoot these very important animals. It doesn't always work so each year, despite all their efforts to keep them alive, they fret about the likelihood that some of their bears will be shot.

I have known Lynn for many years and he has always been refreshing because he tells the truth about the things that are most misunderstood by so many of us, including me. The most critical things that he and Sue Mansfield are learning are around feeding bears and developing trust. They are able to do their research by gaining utmost trust with their study animals. Without any drugs, all their collars are put on or taken off and batteries changed in the GPS units every 7 to 10 days. They locate a bear using telemetry are able to call the bears the last couple hundred yards and then do these maintenances while the bears eat a few nuts. Because they can almost find any of their study animals, at will, they can spend hours with them in impossibly dense woods, observing exactly what is going on in that bear's life from a few feet away. This goes on almost daily with one animal or the other and each year, many privileged people taking the courses get to watch as these tasks are preformed. They can see, first hand, that bears do not need to be handled with any of the acute fear that dominates almost all other studies. Within a few feet from their subject, people can see what the bears eat, hear what they are saying and enjoy what the cubs are up to, in complete confidence that everyone is safe. This confidence is not because of physical barriers or guns used as backup. It is because people soon know that once a bear trust people they will not hurt anyone.

During the week I spent there I learned more about bears than any week in my life and given my 52 years of trying to understand bears, that is saying something.

I am asking you to take the time, (50 minutes) and listen to a radio broadcast that Lynn did on August 3rd 2013, with award-winning host Michael Olson. In this wonderful interview I think he covers every important question that I personally have had around feeding bears... and much more.

Link at

Slowly Lynn and Sue are overcoming the road-blocks that were put up to stop them. They did not have to take the collars off, but they can not set up web cameras any more. For now they can continue their work, but the future of the whole study still is to be decided at a hearing sometime in the future. As Lynn says in the interview, the DNR admits that the reason for stopping their work is that, in their opinion, too many people are changing their ideas away from bears being horrible, dangerous animals that should be hunted. The number of hunters determines the amount of money coming to pay wages for those conducting the hunt. They are worried about web cams in schools. (See Daily Update for Aug 1st). Please get involved if possible. Two things are needed. One is your understanding of these issues that the Wildlife Research Institute is studying. And if you can, please donate to their legal fund so that they can continue the legal battle to once and for all reverse the restrictions of the DNR.

Also, for sure visit the North American Bear Center if you are ever near Minnesota or even if you are not near. It is the most wonderful indoor and outdoor way of learning about bears that I have ever seen. I could not take my eyes off the 60 or so monitors, many of which are displaying High Definition footage that Sue Mansfield has so professionally taken while spending hundreds of hours with the many black bears of their study. There are full mounts of many animals, skeletons of extinct bears as well as existing bears, the best explanations of things that I have ever seen, a comfortable movie theater and no end to other exhibits, including two, once condemned to death bears and one born in captivity bear, in a large, out in the open pen, where they have lots of freedom and wonderful attention to go on living out their life for as long as they want. There is also a wonderful gift shop. Soon there will be an accredited Learning Center attached.

I only spent 5 hours at the Centre, but I came away with several answers to things that I have long wondered about and learned a few things that I never even had enough imagination around which to dream up a question.

As I already have said, this is the most important study ever done in the world about bears because it so well documents better and safe ways that we can live with bears. And if we build trust with these wonderful animals instead of distrust, we do not have to fear bears the way we are told by far too many bear professionals, who are paid to tell you the truth but either do not or can not.

I will write something soon about how I think Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield's findings about black bear pertain to grizzly bear.