'Bearwalker of the Northwoods': Not Just Your Ordinary (Black) Bear

Bearwalker_of_the_Northwoods.jpg On Sunday, April 4, "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" returns to Animal Planet with a new spate of episodes, including "Bearwalker of the Northwoods," an intriguing look at the black bear. Although a common sight in many parts of North America, the bear is far more than common to Dr. Lynn Rogers, who has spent the last four decades getting to know these denizens of Minnesota's north woods.

With the help of cameraman David Wright, he's chronicled his work to protect the bears, which increasingly live in close proximity to humans.

Dr. Rogers was kind enough to answer a few questions about the bears and his affection for them (questions in blue, answers in black) ...

Black bears are one of the most often seen of American wildlife, but also often misunderstood. What are the chief things you wish people knew about the black bears they see in their neighborhoods and wilderness areas?


Black bears are not the ferocious animals we once thought they were or that they are often portrayed to be. Often black bears are demonized, but in reality there is a very low chance of attack from black bears.  Black bears have killed 64 people across the continent since 1900. To help put it in perspective, one black bear out of about a million kills someone compared to one grizzly bear out of about 50,000 killing someone.


Much of the bluster and behaviors they exhibit that make them look dangerous are really out of fear, not because they plan to do harm. When people first see bears in their area, a common reaction is to kill them.  Once people learn about them and understand their behaviors, they become more willing to coexist with them.


If black bears were as bad as many people think, we would not be able to study them the way we do.  "Bearwalker of the Northwoods" is one of the most honest TV programs about black bears ever produced and I think by viewing it many of the misconceptions people have about them will be cleared up.


What fascinates you the most about black bears?


I really enjoy trying to understand their minds and how they live. By understanding bears at this level it allows me to help dispel many common misconceptions about them. Even though I've been studying these amazing creatures for more than 40 years, I continue to learn even more about them, which is very fulfilling and continues to keep me engaged.


Other than sheer bulk, what sets them apart from brown bears or grizzlies?


Compared to grizzlies or brown bears, black bears are more timid, much less defensive ofBearwalker_of_the_Northwoods_2.jpg cubs and food, less carnivorous, much better tree climbers, more adaptive to coexisting with people, and better adapted to forest living.


With human habitation moving ever further into traditional black-bear territory, what can people do to coexist with them?


I encourage people to learn about black bears through information on sites like bear.org and by watching the behavior of one of our study bears on our live den cam. I've found that when people take the time to learn about them, they develop more tolerant attitudes which makes it easier for humans and bears to coexist. I also encourage people to reduce food attractants where they are unwelcome.


Since black bears aren't on the endangered-species list, do you feel they're sometimes taken for granted, like whitetail deer or raccoons?


I've found that people who fear them want to get rid of them, but people who learn to appreciate them look forward to seeing them and don't take them for granted.