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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Bear feeding ban draws support in Eagles Nest

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 9/22/21

EAGLES NEST TOWNSHIP— A proposal to ban the feeding of bears in Minnesota drew strong support from many residents here who sounded off at a packed town board meeting on Tuesday. State Rep. Rob …

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Bear feeding ban draws support in Eagles Nest

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EAGLES NEST TOWNSHIP— A proposal to ban the feeding of bears in Minnesota drew strong support from many residents here who sounded off at a packed town board meeting on Tuesday. State Rep. Rob Ecklund attended the meeting to hear from constituents and provide copies of draft legislation that the DNR had developed to address concerns about bear feeding.
Ecklund told the roughly 50 residents in attendance that he would introduce the legislation but that he would need help from township residents in order to push a feeding ban through the Legislature.
“There are people who will be adamantly against this bill,” said Ecklund. “A similar bill did not pass in 2016 and it will be just as heavy of a lift next year,” he said. The Minnesota Legislature reconvenes in 2022 in late January.
Ecklund urged township residents to reach out to Sen. Tom Bakk to ask him to sponsor the bill as well. “We’ll need a good co-author in the Senate,” noted Ecklund.
Ecklund’s bill would prohibit intentionally providing food to bears and would also prohibit the hand-feeding of bears, as has become a common practice with some residents of Eagles Nest Township. Ecklund acknowledged that the language of the bill, which was provided to him by the DNR, does not currently include an exemption for an educational facility such as the Vince Shute Sanctuary, near Orr, which has become a significant tourist attraction. “We’ll have to have a discussion on that,” said Ecklund.
Bear feeding has long been a source of controversy in Eagles Nest Township, located between Tower and Ely, but residents said they have experienced an unprecedented influx of bears over the past two years, when natural bear foods have been limited due to drought. Several residents who spoke at the meeting described feeling like prisoners in their own homes due to the high number of black bears in their neighborhood.
“We have never seen an influx of bears like this year,” complained Donna Carlson, who lives on Armstrong Lake. “I have two bear feeding stations within 1.1 miles of each other surrounding our property,” she said.
Her neighbor, Nancy Roe, said she has kept a journal of bear sightings in her yard the past couple years, as the number of bears increased. Roe said she and her husband moved to Eagles Nest in 2007 and saw bears occasionally in those early years. “But they didn’t bother us,” she said. Now, Roe said she lives between two neighbors who feed bears and she faces a nearly constant stream of bears moving through her yard. She said last year she counted 228 bear sightings in her yard and she has seen bears 270 times so far this year, she said.
“You can’t leave the garage door open for a second,” she said. “You can’t have children in the yard.” She said in prior years, she had considered it a treat to see a bear. “Now, I have 270 bear sightings in my yard. That’s way too many. These feeding stations are the problem.”
Another resident, James McDonald, put much of the blame for the situation on Dr. Lynn Rogers, who has used habituation of bears as a means of studying the animals at close range.
He accused Rogers of glamorizing and profiting from bear feeding at his Wildlife Research Institute, located in the township.
Ann Thunhorst described in emotional terms an encounter the night before with a mother bear and three cubs. She said her dog had chased after one of the cubs and that the sow had raced around a corner of Thunhorst’s house, coming within three feet of Thunshorst, who was out in the yard to retrieve her dog. “I feel like a prisoner in my own home,” she said. “I can’t go outside without a loaded gun. Firing shots doesn’t even work anymore with these bears.”
Thunhorst said her father worked for the DNR and she grew up exposed to bears. “I don’t have a problem with bears. I love bears, but I prefer to see them in the wild.”
Resident Barb Soderberg voiced her support for the measure and said she opposes the feeding of all animals, with the exception of birds, because it disrupts their natural behaviors.
But another township resident, responding to Soderberg, argued that bird and deer feeding and bear baiting should be included in any proposed ban. “You can’t zero in on one thing without including everything else,” she said.
Ecklund acknowledged the emotions that people in the township haveon the issue, but warned that opponents of his proposed legislation would also be emotional in their support of bear feeding. He encouraged township residents to develop a list of their neighbors who would be willing to testify at the Capitol on the problems they are experiencing.
Rogers’ view
While the vast majority of speakers at the hearing supported Ecklund’s legislation, Dr. Lynn Rogers acknowledged the fear that some township residents feel, but questioned whether it was justified. He said his research has documented the value of diversionary feeding of bears in reducing bear-human conflicts, even as it might increase bear sightings. Rogers said he brought his research to Eagles Nest because of the longstanding tradition of bear feeding by some residents, the impact of which he wanted to study. He said Eagles Nest was known for its lack of bear problems, despite the feeding by some residents and he said that this has largely remained the case until the past couple of years. “What this area is known for is no attacks, no aggression, and almost no home break-ins,” he said.
But Rogers agreed with his fellow township residents that the influx of bears into the township in the past couple of years has been unprecedented. He said back-to-back years of exceptionally poor wild foods and this year’s extensive wildfires have displaced large numbers of bears from Canada and neighboring parts of Minnesota, many of which appear to be finding their way to Eagles Nest. “I’ve never seen as many bears here as this year,” he acknowledged.

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