At first, Rogers did his research the conventional way, radio-collaring the animals and observing them from a distance. But in the mid-1980s, he began walking with bears, 24 to 48 hours at a time, and found that he was safe day or night, and whether mothers had cubs or not. He still collared bears the conventional way though, by trapping and tranquilizing them, until in 1999 he experimented further and found that the bears who had learned to trust him would let him put collars on without any of those extras.
Rogers believes that the trusting relationships he develops with bears allow him to learn details about them — their activities, diet, ecology, social organization and vocalizations — that he could never learn otherwise.
Others are no so sure. Timothy Van Deelen, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, thinks that the method has its limitations. “You have to assume that the presence of humans doesn’t alter the behavior of the bears,” he says, “that what they do is the same thing they’d be doing if they weren’t being followed around by a big hairless ape. Also, there is, necessarily, a small sample. It’s hard to make inferences from just a few bears about how a whole population of bears behaves."
By contrast, Rogers says it’s easy to skew data by injuring bears when capturing them, or by killing them with tranquilizers, and he cites a 2003 study with grizzly bears to support his point.
But it is his feeding of bears that raises the most hackles at the Department of Natural Resources. Rogers says he’s studying how the feeding affects the bears and their relations with people. Garshelis maintains that Rogers isn’t doing a study at all. “It is recreational feeding, just like feeding birds,” he says. “I grant that he has succeeded in showing that people can be convinced to live with bears roaming constantly in their neighborhood. But he has not shown that this is a good thing for either bears or people.”
“Rogers trains bears to seek humans out for food,” says Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the department — and that, he contends, is an accident waiting to happen. “Goodall stopped feeding chimpanzees early on in her research,” he adds. “I wonder if she even knows the degree to which Lynn is feeding these bears.”