BEAR WEEK: North American Bear Center in Ely aims to dispel myths about bears

If you've ever wondered about anything about bears, the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota is the place to get “bear smart.”

At the North American Bear Center, it’s all about educating the public about bears in general, especially black bears.

“We've got just about everything you could think of about a black bear here at the North American Bear Center,” said Judy Thone, one of the educators at the center. “We've got mating, play behavior, what they eat here in the woods.”

The walls and halls of the North American Bear Center are covered with decades of field research by Dr. Lynn Rogers. The center was literally built on his studies.

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Rogers is considered one of the world's foremost experts on bear behavior. He spent most of his adult life in and out of the forests of Minnesota interacting with black bears, taking volumes of notes and videos and studying bears in their natural environment, at times very, very close.
In the decades he has been studying bears, Rogers said he learned that bears are not what he grew up believing they were.

“I grew up afraid of bears,” Rogers said. “I read the hunting magazines, I went to museums and saw the bears like that. I went to national parks [and] I saw the warnings. There was just no way I could not fear them and when I got to know them, they were nothing like that.”

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While the four black bears at the North American Bear Center are not necessarily "wild” -- most are brought to the center as orphans -- they do display typical bear behavior and for visitors, seeing the bears is the key.

One of the main goals of the North American Bear Center is to allow people to better understand bears by getting fairly close to them. The interactions allow people to better understand how bears interact with our world and with people.

Some wildlife biologists believe the bear may be the most "misunderstood" animal in the forest. The North American Bear Center is designed to "enlighten" those who don’t know much about bears.

Reading, watching and observing these bears, young or old, educators at the bear center would like people to consider that just about everything they’ve ever heard about a bear, whether from their parents, school, movies or the internet may not be accurate. The goal at the North American Bear Center is to dispel some of those thoughts and replace them with science.

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