James Butler was sitting in his backyard in Morris — a rural town in northwestern Connecticut — when he heard his 10-year-old grandson scream “Bear, Bear.” He rolled his wheelchair towards the sound and to his horror saw his grandson being mauled by a 250-pound Black Bear. He threw a metal pipe at the bear, who then temporarily paused, and then continued to maul his grandson.

heroic neighbor heard the boy’s cries and scared the bear off with a crowbar. The boy suffered a puncture wound to one thigh, bite marks on a foot and ankle and claw marks on his back. He was examined at a local hospital and fortunately, none of these injuries was life threatening.

Joseph Bentivegna MD

The police were called and the bear was killed by the Connecticut Environmental Conservation Police.

But this was a close call. Steps must be taken to prevent the burgeoning bear population from spreading or some child is eventually going to be killed.

There are two species of bears in the continental United States, the Black and the Brown (also called Grizzlies). Grizzlies are larger and confined to Yellowstone Park and the northwest. But Black Bears are increasing in population rapidly throughout the country, especially In Connecticut. In the early 1990s, there were an estimated 20 to 50 bears in Connecticut. Now there are between 1,200 to 2,000. The growth of forests, the lack of hunting and improved food supply are the reasons most often mentioned for this phenomenon.

Black bears are normally shy creatures and fear humans. They are omnivores — meaning they eat both meat and vegetable matter. But as they spread from the forests to the suburbs, they become more domesticated, emboldened and no longer fear humans.

Thus, it is not uncommon to see a Black Bear nonchalantly feeding on a garbage can at some Avon or Fairfield suburban house or actually invading the house itself. There were 65 home invasions by Black Bears in Connecticut last year. One Connecticut woman videotaped a bear inside her house.

Dealing with this problem has pitted environmentalists against hunters and gun advocates — and so far — the environmentalists are winning. It is illegal to shoot a Black Bear except in the case of self defense or if the bear is destroying property on agricultural lands. In fact, when a man shot a bear that was threatening his dog, he was arrested. An off-duty police officer in Newtown was placed on administrative leave when he shot a bear that was repeatedly menacing his family. Eventually, an investigation exonerated him, but it was possible this police officer could have lost his job and even been incarcerated because of this incident.

In Connecticut, Black Bears threatening humans or their property have more rights than humans themselves. This is because powerful environmentalist groups such as The CT Coalition to Protect Bears, CT League of Conservation Voters, CT Votes for Animals, CT Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, Friends of Animals, The Humane Society, Keep the Woods.org and the Sierra Club had the political clout to pass laws that prevent humans from protecting themselves and prevent the hunting of bears to cull the population.

Rather, the environmentalists believe that with proper education of the citizenry, co-existence with roaming bears is possible. The CT Coalition to Protect Bears recommends the following: Remove bird feeders, clean barbecue grills, feed pets indoors and secure garbage cans. You can even purchase bear resistant garbage cans ($299.99 a pop), bear spray for when attacked ($54.95) and even bear resistant fences ($219.99).

But this problem will not go away. In several years, the bear population will exceed 5,000 meaning they will be common sights on our roads and in our backyards. Connecticut residents will have to shelter their children indoors to prevent them from being mauled or killed. Anyone who shoots a bear will be arrested and even though they may eventually be exonerated, they will go through living hell as they navigate the legal system while paying huge bills to defend themselves.

The skeptical reader has only to look at how the deer population has burgeoned to the determent of Connecticut residents. Deer are ubiquitous in the suburbs, boldly destroying gardens during daylight. Car accidents involving deer have skyrocketed resulting in 32 fatalities in 2021. Lyme disorder — in which deer are a vector — has resulted in the disability of so many patients, that the Connecticut legislature passed a law forcing insurance companies reimburse doctors treating these unfortunate patients.

Yet any attempts to cull the deer population have been stymied by the powerful environmentalist lobby. In all likelihood, the same approach will be applied to bears. It will remain illegal to hunt them to cull the population. The environmentalists believe a few mauled children is the price of co-existing with bears, just like they believe increased traffic fatalities are the price of coexisting with deer. And they have the political power to enforce this.

Joseph Bentivegna MD is an ophthalmologist in Rocky Hill.