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      Don't fence me in: the "bear" facts

      For almost 30 years, Oswalds Bear Ranch in Newberry, Michigan has allowed visitors to take pictures with bear cubs.Now, less than six months after the amendment, the ranch is under attack again except this time those pushing for the change are taking it to a federal level.Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforced the Large Carnivore Act, prohibiting ranch patrons from coming into contact with the bears, deemed a large carnivore, over 20 weeks of age. In April, Governor Rick Snyder amended Michiganâ??s law allowing contact with the cubs to continue, up to 36 weeks or 90 pounds, and Dean Oswald to carry on with his business.Groups, including the Humane Society of the United States and Detroit Zoological Society, are petitioning the United States Department of Agriculture to amend the Animal Welfare Act and prohibit public contact with big cats, bears and primates. The Detroit Zoological Society sent this statement to TV6:The practice of handling and using bear cubs for photo opportunities threatens public safety and significantly compromises animal welfare. Bears that are prematurely removed from the nurturing care of their mothers are deprived of normal biological and behavioral development. By the time they are 9 months old, black bears can weigh more than 65 pounds and are capable of inflicting painful injuries. In Michigan alone, seven people have been injured â?? one fatally â?? by privately owned bears since 1990. Privately owned animal preserves (including those which are members of exotic animal associations other than the Association of Zoos and Aquariums) do not undergo the rigorous review and inspections which are part of AZA accreditation and they are not required to have the infrastructure, training or emergency preparedness necessary to maintain human safety in dangerous animal escape situations."We have people that leave with smiles on their faces that come from Australia, Germany, France, Switzerland; from all over the world," said Dean Oswald, ranch owner.Since the ranch opened its doors in 1984, 22 bear cubs were rescued. Each year over 15,000 cars travel significant distances for the exciting photo-op, and Oswald stated not one left with an injury."They have dogs running on the streets that only weigh 25/30 pounds that could be very dangerous," Oswald said. "I know they're more dangerous than my cub bears."If this federal petition passes, Oswaldâ??s won't be the only one under attack--any establishments allowing contact with large carnivores or primates, including the DeYoung Family Zoo in Wallace, could also be targeted. The USDA is considering the petition and comments received up until October 4, however, they are currently closed due to governmental shutdown.As for now, Oswald says he will push to keep this unique, up-close encounter open for business.