State bill would ban hand-feeding bears

Published 9:36 am Friday, March 13, 2015

ST. PAUL — A proposal moving through the Minnesota legislature would ban feeding wild bears by hand.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports the bill is supported by the state Department of Natural Resources. The proposal would also make it unlawful to leave out food to feed or attract bears, as well neglecting to take away food or trash that have attracted bears.

Bird feeders would not be included in the ban, and hunters and researchers with permits could bait bears.

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Ed Boggess, director of the Department of Natural Resources’ fish and wildlife division, said the ban is needed to protect people, so bears don’t start to see them as a food source. Similar bans are in place in several other states.

Minnesota has been in a legal battle with Ely-based bear researcher Lynn Rogers, refusing renew his permit last year. The Department of Natural Resources said his hand-feeding of bears created a public danger.

Rogers has appealed a decision against him made by the state’s chief administrative law judge. Both sides have racked up roughly $850,000 in legal costs.

Bear researchers in the U.S. and Canada have been critical of Rogers’ techniques, but he argues attracting bears with food can reduce conflicts between them and humans.

The feeding ban would put Rogers’ research and his nonprofit in jeopardy, he said. Visitors at the nonprofit’s center can pay for a “bear course,” which allows them to feed and interact with wild bears. Those payments buoy the nonprofit’s finances.

“Immediately, if this becomes law, they’re going to place me on notice,” Rogers said. “This is one more step that is based on pure jealousy.”

Boggess said the proposal is to “apply broadly to the public.”

“I wouldn’t say (Rogers) was the inspiration for it,” Boggess said. “It’s something we should be doing for the bears and for public safety.”