The following editorial ran in the April 26 edition of the Record-Journal::
Seeing a bear in Connecticut is not a rare occurrence. In 2022, bear sightings were reported in 158 of the state’s 169 towns and cities, according to a recent report from state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection: “The State of the Bears.”
The agency’s data also reveals that the bear population is currently around 1,000 to 1,200 animals and that human interactions with bears are increasing. Discussion regarding the situation is well underway and it’s clear there are no easy answers.
In the news this month were two stories that illustrate the need to get a handle on what to do about bears. Local and national TV news stations recently ran video of five bears seen on a trampoline in the backyard of a Farmington home. The coverage tended towards the “cute,” with references to the bears playing, making merry, having fun.
While that description may or may not be true, this type of language serves to anthropomorphize wildlife. Animals can be playful, but when they set up camp in a backyard or near other human habitat, the outcome can be deadly serious. Over the weekend, DEEP reported that a woman, walking her dog in Avon, suffered several bites inflicted by a bear. Last year, there were two bear attacks, including a situation where a child was mauled in his grandparents’ backyard. Under DEEP’s Black Bear Response protocol, an attack on a human is a category 4 response, resulting in euthanization of the bear.
In March, the Associated Press reported on a proposed bear hunt in Connecticut. The original proposal for a hunt limited to a northwestern area of the state failed, however the legislature did approve creating special state permits to allow killing bears that threaten or damage crops, livestock or bees. Animal rights advocates had argued that the original bear hunt proposal would not be effective in reducing the number of human-bear conflicts, according to the AP.
DEEP has long advised on the topic, and its website section called “Living with Black Bears” gives detailed tips on reducing encounters and potential conflicts whether at home or on the trail. The emphasis is on removing food sources that attract bears. And then, if one does wander by, leave it alone. “All residents should take time to make themselves ‘Bear Aware’ and learn about best practices to both reduce the likelihood of an encounter with a bear and know what to do in the event of an encounter,” states the DEEP website.
Sightings of bears, such as the group on the trampoline, are exciting and the impulse to see these creatures as cuddly visitors that won’t mind people gawking is understandable. But that thinking must be reined in. What may seem like harmless observation could be interpreted as encroachment.
The DEEP promotes the idea that humans and bears can co-exist, but it’s up to humans to respect the rules that make that proposition safe. Otherwise, much harsher measures could become necessary.