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Proposed bear-feeding ban dropped under fire

Bear-feeding supporters turn out in droves at Eagles Nest board meeting

Jodi Summit
Posted 10/27/21

EAGLES NEST TWP- Opponents of a proposed bear-feeding ban in Minnesota turned out in force at the Oct. 19 town board meeting here, despite the fact that the legislator who proposed the bill has since …

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Proposed bear-feeding ban dropped under fire

Bear-feeding supporters turn out in droves at Eagles Nest board meeting

Posted

EAGLES NEST TWP- Opponents of a proposed bear-feeding ban in Minnesota turned out in force at the Oct. 19 town board meeting here, despite the fact that the legislator who proposed the bill has since withdrawn his legislation.
The issue has long been a lightning rod in Eagles Nest, where large numbers of residents feed bears and other wildlife. It appears an equally large number of township residents object to that activity and that contingent turned out in force at a town board meeting in September to hear from District 3A Rep. Rob Ecklund, who had offered to carry a bill to ban bear feeding in the state.
Ecklund had found support for his bill at the earlier meeting, but he faced considerable opposition from other residents of Eagles Nest as well as supporters of the Vince Shute Bear Sanctuary, a major tourist draw near Orr. That facility has long fed wild black bears, providing an opportunity for the public to safely view the animals as they interact.
While the tradition of bear feeding in Eagles Nest has attracted large numbers of bears to the township, located halfway between Tower and Ely, it has relatively few bear problems, according to Dr. Lynn Rogers, who has been studying bears in the area for decades.
“What this area is known for is no attacks, no aggression, and almost no home break-ins,” said Rogers during the town board meeting last month.
While Rogers was in the minority at September’s meeting, he had plenty of support at the latest meeting, with numerous residents speaking out in favor of bear feeding and urging their neighbors to learn to live with their “bear neighbors.”
Judy Thon, a township resident who works at the North American Bear Center (NABC), was the first of many residents who spoke up on the subject. She thanked State Rep. Rob Ecklund for deciding to withdraw his legislation that would have prohibited bear feeding statewide.
She also urged the board to revisit and publicize the locally written study they have published on the township website, titled “Living with Bears in Eagles Nest Township” that was put together back in 2007.
“My concern is that we went from what is on the website to all of a sudden, after two years of drought, talk of a bear-feeding ban,” she said. “I didn’t see any concerns voiced over the summer.”
The recent drought has meant fewer natural foods in the woods and has meant more bear-people interactions through the region.
Thon said that what she heard at the last meeting was mostly that people seemed afraid of bears. “Fear can be debilitating,” she said, and noted the remedy for that was education about bears and bear behavior.
After last month’s meeting, Rogers decided to set up meetings with township residents at the NABC and has sent out invitations for the first session which was set for Oct. 23. The meeting was by invitation only, Thon said, so they could safely limit the crowd size, but they expect to hold additional meetings next spring and summer that would be open to a wider audience.
Thon noted that fear is real, but not warranted. “We need to change attitudes and perceptions,” she said.
“People can’t coexist with an animal they fear,” Thon added. “This community is one that does coexist.”
Several other township residents who had moved to Eagles Nest on account of the wildlife, specifically bears, spoke to the board.
“We are lucky to be here,” said Steve Barnish, who moved to the township in 2017 precisely because of the tradition of feeding bears.
Barnish questioned the board on why the meeting agenda last month only mentioned feeding wildlife.
“That seemed a benign subject,” Banish said, “but they introduced an already-finished product from the DNR without input from citizens.”
Town Board Chair Richard Floyd said the board had been approached by Ecklund who had asked to speak at the meeting.
“He mentioned both bears and birds,” Floyd said. “We weren’t going to take any action on it. It was just information.” Floyd said he had contacted Rogers prior to the meeting, to let him know the issue was going to be discussed.
Others also said they were unhappy with what they saw as underhanded tactics at the September meeting, and that so many who opposed bear feeding apparently knew about the meeting in advance and attended.
“My point is that we were ambushed,” said Larry McCray, the township’s Fire Chief, but speaking as a township resident. “We heard statements of hate and statements of fear-mongering.” McCray urged the board to stay neutral and balanced on the issue.
He said the board should be concentrating on things like improving roads and looking into grant opportunities for improving township buildings.
“What we got is we are going to invade your backyard and tell you what you can do with sunflower seeds,” McCray said, speaking of the proposed bear-feeding ban. Since bears are attracted to sunflower seeds put out in bird feeders, this ban might have required taking down bird feeders in areas with bears.
Floyd suggested that the effort to ban bear feeding had apparently backfired.
“As it turned out,” Floyd said, “the opposite happened. He [Ecklund] got so much backlash that he won’t be introducing the legislation.”
But others, including township supervisor DeAnne Schatz, said the large numbers of bears, many of which are no longer fearful of people, can cause problems.
“We don’t live in fear,” she said. “But now you see a bear and they won’t run away.”
Other noted that bears are daily tracking through the yards of those not feeding bears, to visit properties where food is being put out for them.
Board members reiterated that, as a board, they didn’t feel it was their responsibility to take a stand either way and said they would refer any questions to the already-published study on the home page of the township website (eaglesnestmn.com).
After over 45 minutes of public comment on the bear issue, Floyd asked if there were any other citizen concerns, not relating to bears.
When one member of the audience suggested they talk about ATVS, almost everyone in the room laughed. The publication of a map showing an official ATV/OHV route using several public roads in the township has been a contentious issue since late summer.
Supervisor Kurt Soderberg said that two town board officials would be meeting with representatives from the DNR, St. Louis County, and Prospectors Trail Club on Oct. 25 to discuss a possible compromise route, which would include old forest roads, keeping the route off township roads as much as possible.
“We hope to find common ground and consensus,” he said. “And we will give a report at the next board meeting.”
Floyd reiterated that the township was not against general ATV use in the township but was concerned over a published ATV/OHV route that the township had not approved.
Fire Chief Larry McCray discussed repairs needed for a hazardous gas monitor. The board gave permission to purchase a new unit, at a cost of not more than $2,000, if it wasn’t affordable to make the repairs to the existing unit. He told the board the department had received a donation from the Morse-Fall Lake Fire Department of a compressor they can use to fill their airpacks.
McCray also updated the board on the last Tower Area Ambulance Board meeting and discussed the option of approving a one-time double subsidy payment in 2023, to allow the department to upgrade their second ambulance faster. He said this one-time effort would allow them to keep the subsidy rate at its current $15 per capital amount. McCray said he was confident that the department was being managed well at this time.
Soderberg asked McCray to continue investigating this idea with the joint ambulance board and said the town board would discuss it when they are setting their 2023 budget in February.
McCray also gave the board the go-ahead to send in their 2021 subsidy payments and sign the current contract.
Other business
In other business the town board:
• Approved a two-year renewal of the website contract with Carolyn Quick for $3,100. This includes regular updates of information. There are additional fees for annual hosting and domain renewals, as well as a $40/hour fee for making changes/additions to the structure of the website.
• Asked for a volunteer to serve on the Tower-Soudan Joint Powers Recreation Board. The township donates $200 a year to the group, which makes small grants for youth recreation and community education in Tower-Soudan.
• Discussed options for allowing remote access to meetings for a supervisor who is out of town in the winter.
• The next township meeting is on Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 5 p.m.

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