Like many legends, his reputation is polarizing: lovable advocate willing to go against the grain of traditional thought, or reckless outlaw. He’s a charismatic black bear evangelist who, after living and working with for more than 50 years, preaches tolerance and protection for a mammal that is – according to him – the subject of erroneous myths, like that it has sharp incisors, craves human flesh and is always poised for attack. She is tentative at first, but her shoulders and neck muscles unclench just a smidge when she recognizes Johnson.This is Rogers’ first bear course of seven or eight he’ll hold in 2017. And one by one she tongues the nuts like a lizard snatching bugs.
His community of Eagles Nest Township has been feeding bears for more than 30 years, typically with very few reported bear nuisance problems (like overturned garbage cans or bear home-invasion) and negative human-bear encounters.
Earlier in his career, after using traditional methods of darting bears to apply tracking collars, Rogers decided that establishing a “mutual trust relationship” with bears helped humans study them and understand them better.
Rogers’ palm is upward near his ear, like a waiter balancing a tray of food high above the heads of diners.
Lynn Rogers says as he approaches a 350-pound wild black bear that he’s named Burt.
He crunches once and the shell, now in two pieces, comes spitting out both sides of his mouth and lands on the wooden porch.
Rogers says to his class of seven students, who have assembled at a three-story cabin in the woods in the northernmost reaches of Minnesota, just miles from the Canadian border, “Bears have a spot on the underside of their tongues that they use to pick up food.
Rogers’ study activities has significantly contributed to bona fide public safety concerns.” Rogers’ methods of research, funding from organizations such as the National Rifle Association’s Conservation Division and other non-traditional sources, plus the publicity, has made him the subject of scrutiny and lawsuits, including one involving the DNR.
The judge in the DNR case stated that the bears in and around Eagles Nest have exhibited unbearlike behaviors: “failing to startle when confronted with loud and unexpected noises; learning to climb human-constructed stairs in purposeful efforts to locate food; closely approaching young children; remaining on human-occupied property in spite of hazing activities that would typically cause a bear to retreat; standing up and pawing at cabin and car windows; and nipping and slapping at people unable to provide them with expected food.” And this behavior was making people afraid.
“Nuisance behavior is not because bears get habituated or food-conditioned, it’s because of hunger,” he said.