LANSING, Mich. – Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed legislation allowing Oswald’s Bear Ranch in Newberry to continue its mission of rescuing bear cubs and educating visitors about the animals.
The new law allows the public direct contact with bear cubs up to 90 pounds and 36 weeks old. The Large Carnivore Act currently restricts contact with animals – like lions, tigers, leopards and bears – older than 20 weeks. Since bear cubs arrive in the spring, the bears at Oswald’s ranch grew older than 20 weeks by the end of the tourism season, and the ranch was granted an exemption. Open since 1997, Oswald’s Bear Ranch currently has 29 bears on site.
“Oswald’s Bear Ranch is an important piece of the Upper Peninsula culture,” Snyder said. “The Oswalds play an important role in raising rescued cubs to adulthood, as well as providing the public with education about black bears.”
Senate Bill 48, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Casperson, now is Public Act 8 of 2013.
Visit www.legislature.mi.gov for more information on the bill.
The legistlation amends the state’s Large Carnivore Act to allow federally licensed exhibitors to let their visitors have contact with bear cubs 36 weeks or younger or less than 90 pounds as long as other criteria in the law, including compliance with federal laws and regulations, are met. While the bill would directly help Oswald’s Bear Ranch, the provision on cub contact could also be used by other exhibitors or zoos that owned bears at the time SB 48 was signed.
“Oswald’s Bear Ranch has been a staple of U.P. tourism for decades with many visitors drawn to Newberry from lower Michigan, neighboring states and around the world to see Oswald’s high class operation,” said Casperson, R-Escanaba, the bill’s sponsor. “It’s a business that offers much to the patrons who visit, the Newberry community and to the bear cubs and older bears that are very well cared for and able to live in vast natural habitats.”
Last summer, after years of being approved by state and federal agencies to exhibit bears and allow photos to be taken with bear cubs, Oswald’s Bear Ranch was told by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency that had never regulated the operation previously, that they now determined state law did not allow Oswald’s to continue that practice. Visitors and many local businesses were very disappointed with that limitation, causing owner Dean Oswald to ask Casperson to clarify Michigan’s law.
“Dealing with the varying regulations imposed by three different state and federal agencies has caused our business unnecessary stress and costs over the past year,” said Dean Oswald. “But my family is thankful that Senator Casperson worked with us and the governor signed SB 48 to clarify the state law to ensure we can continue to offer an experience that visitors to Oswald’s Bear Ranch have enjoyed for generations.”