Hunters will be incentivized to kill wildlife and hunting will be expanded in the state under a revised version of a bill approved by the General Assembly’s Environment Committee that was aimed at establishing a black bear hunt in Connecticut.
The substitute language inserted at the last minute into SB 586 (now called “An Act Concerning the Control of Nuisance Wildlife”) expands the types of property covered from just crops to bees, chickens, and farm animals such as goats, cows and donkeys as well as who can kill the wildlife. Under current law a farmer can already kill wildlife such as bears deemed a nuisance for damaging crops or request the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEEP) take action. This bill would allow any owner or lessee to designate a hunter who has received a permit from DEEP to kill wildlife at any time of day and night.
While supporters of the bill spin the message that the substitute language scaled back a bear hunt, the reality is the nuisance bill allows a free-for-all of non-stop killing with little accountability and oversight. More animals will die under this measure and everyone and anyone, including residents with a backyard chicken coop or bee colony, potentially can designate a neighboring hunter to run around their yards shooting guns and bows at wildlife.
That’s because the bill does not require property owners or renters to take any responsible non-lethal wildlife management steps such as installing electric fences. Worse, hunters who get paid as designated permittees to kill wildlife can also keep the dead animals for commercial sale or private use, thus making it very lucrative to kill wildlife. Additionally, the bill opens up the possibility that anyone with a few chickens or bees can invoke a hunt, as DEEP has not developed any criteria under this expansion for establishing the magnitude of an agricultural operation, the scale of damage or the degree of avoidance measures required before issuing a kill permit.
The wording of the bill was changed by the committee after a public hearing was held on the original form of the legislation that would have allowed a bear hunt in Litchfield County. The state has not held a black bear hunt since the mid-1800s because hunting had all but wiped out the population. While hunters and DEEP insist a black bear hunt is the best method to prevent human-bear conflicts, they also know public sentiment does not find killing bears in a hunt palatable. But this bill allows an unending cycle of killing away from the eyes of media, thus mitigating the bad press of bloodied and dead bears being tossed into pickup trucks, but not resolving the very problems voiced by farmers and residents. If you kill a bear or coyote, another hungry one will be right behind them if bee colonies and goats are not properly secured.
The best way to mitigate conflict is for the state to require bear-resistant garbage cans and fencing and to increase educational outreach. To lessen costs, some states have developed collectives with bear resistant rubbish containers where residents in bear habitat can drop off garbage if they can’t afford their own containers. Other states have increased fines and strengthened regulations promoting common sense bear-human conflict mitigation methods, such as requiring property owners and residents to take necessary actions to secure their animals. Many post signs on hiking trails on what to do if you see a bear.
Yet the Environment Committee in approving this nuisance wildlife bill opted not to include any such sensible regulations. Let’s hope the full Senate and House instead votes in favor of the logical, reasonable and humane measure of promoting non-lethal management of the bear population.
Priscilla Feral is President of Friends of Animals based in Darien.
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