Senate passes bill to help bear ranch
LANSING – A measure to assist Oswald’s Bear Ranch in Newberry was recently passed by the Michigan Senate. The bill is now awaiting a signature from Gov. Rick Snyder.
“This is common sense legislation to remove government overreach that inhibited a well-run, successful business, Oswald’s Bear Ranch, from operating this past year as it has for more than 15 years with no problems with its bear cubs or visitors,” said Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, the bill’s sponsor. “The change will help ensure that Oswald’s will remain a staple of U.P. tourism for years to come.”
Senate Bill 48 will amend the Large Carnivore Act to allow visitors to licensed and inspected exhibitors to have contact with a bear cub that is younger than 36 weeks old or under 90 pounds.
For more than 15 years, Oswald’s Bear Ranch allowed guests who wanted to take a photo with their bear cubs to do so. They had been operating with the understanding that they were exempt from Michigan’s Large Carnivore Act because they were licensed as a “class C exhibitor” regulated by the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Last June, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notified Oswald’s that their interpretation of the law said that the practice of allowing visitors to have their photo taken with their cubs violated state law.
Casperson introduced legislation last August to fix that state law to assist Oswald’s Bear Ranch which has been in business for nearly 30 years, attracting visitors from across the Upper Peninsula, Michigan, the U.S. and the world.
Following a veto of the first bill by the governor because of other changes to the Large Carnivore Act that were included in the same bill, Casperson introduced SB 48 at the beginning of the new legislative session in January with the commitment from Snyder that he would sign a bill that dealt only with Oswald’s bear cub issue.
“My family and I are grateful for this bill being passed that would help enable us to continue to run our business and accept rescued bear cubs if the bill is signed,” said Dean Oswald, owner of Oswald’s Bear Ranch. “When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came in and stopped us from allowing our visitors to have their photos taken with the cubs, which has been a very popular attraction, not only was our business negatively impacted by unnecessary government interference, but tourism in the area was also adversely affected. Tourism is too important to Luce County to lose.”
“These small businesses and others like them are essential to the Upper Peninsula as they provide jobs and economic activity to our communities through the visitors they attract,” said Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, who co-sponsored the legislation.