Bear Ranch open for season, controversy looms

NEWBERRY — It’s the beginning of a new year…at least in Newberry. One of the Upper Peninsula’s most well–known attractions is now open for the summer.

“It’s exciting; it’s a lot of work,” said Owner Dean Oswald. “This is our first day, it’s a little slow, but tomorrow will be crazy.”

But, the start of another season at Oswald’s Bear Ranch doesn’t come without some complications.

For the second time in less than a year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is coming after the bear ranch. They are accused of harboring three bears – acquired in 2016 – without documentation.

“That’s wrong,” said Oswald. “We’ve never had an undocumented bear. We’ve always been on the up with the State of Michigan; they have all our records of every bear we’ve brought in, and now we’re under the USDA – we have been for years, but now they’re doing all the paperwork.”

In October, PETA accused the bear ranch of subjecting its residents to inhumane conditions.

“They’re in good condition. I bought a steak this morning for my wife, changed my mind and gave it to a bear,” Oswald said with a chuckle.

Most of the bears have been rescued and rehabilitated in one of four large habitats. With over 240 acres for the bears to roam, space and resources are abundant.

“Right now we have approximately 40 bears.”

Of those 40, Dean tells me he bottle–fed 36 of them.

“These are my babies, so how could they be saying something like that? It’s a violation of just good common sense.  We’ve been cleared by the USDA. One hundred percent. No violations at all,” said Oswald.

Hundreds will stop in Newberry this weekend to observe, feed, and take photos with the bears. Many more have stood behind Oswald’s showing their support for one of the Upper Peninsula’s top attractions.

“People from all over the United States are sending letters to the PETA Program.”

Stay with ABC 10 for more updates as this story progresses.