How unfortunate for Dr. Joseph Bentivegna that he’s an ophthalmologist with such a myopic view of Connecticut’s black bears and environmentalists who seek to protect them.
However, we do believe in science and understand black bear behavior. Hence, we know that fear-mongering or killing bears will not keep Connecticut residents, or black bears, safe.
But public education will.
Why? Because anyone with common sense knows killing some bears won’t do anything to educate the ones who survive a trophy hunt not to be opportunistic feeders.
Researchers in other states have found that hunts do not eliminate the bears who wildlife agencies have deemed so-called “nuisance bears.” Based on 10 years of data, researchers in Wisconsin concluded that the bears killed by hunters were not the same bears who people complained about elsewhere.
It is clear Bentivegna is ignorant when it comes to black bear behavior, or he is just choosing to ignore the facts to push his hunting propaganda. His claim that in several years the bear population will exceed 5,000 is unfounded.
Connecticut hasn’t studied its black bear population since 2014, when there were 200 adult bears in the Northwest corner, and approximately 400 adult bears in the state.
What the state does know is its human population has grown by 31,847 residents since 2010 and is just over 3.6 million people.
Here is an eye-opener for Bentivegna — bear human interactions don’t occur because bears are troublemakers or bear populations are out of control or because they enjoy being around people.
“Bears come into conflict with people because we give them a reason to. We attract them with the endless supply of high-calorie food sources we intentionally or unintentionally provide,” says Rich Beausoleil, bear specialist, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The initial results of a necropsy report showed the adult male black bear that was killed in Morris had pieces of macaroni in his stomach, an indicator that the bear had eaten garbage in the past. Last time we checked, macaroni didn’t grow in Connecticut’s forests.
The only way to protect children and pets from interactions with bears is if Connecticut residents step up and make a concerted effort to change their behavior to keep bears wild. And the Morris incident should be the impetus for that change.
Using bear-resistant trash containers is a sure-fire way to defeat determined bears and keep them out of people’s yards and from becoming habituated, which means they lose their fear of humans.
We support efforts of towns like Durango, Colorado, which adopted a wildlife ordinance that addresses securing trash. Residents no longer get an initial warning if caught with trash tossed about by wildlife or leaving food outdoors —they receive a fine for the first offense and are required to upgrade to a wildlife resistant can if a non-resistant can was accessed.
And we commend our own towns of Simsbury and Granby who have adopted wildlife feeding ordinances, which prohibit bird feeders from April 1-Nov. 30 unless the source of food is thistle, which many birds like but that bears don’t have a taste for.
Hunting apologists like Bentivega don’t want the public to know that in New Jersey, reports showed that bear activity increased in 2011 and 2014 when the state allowed bear hunting. And incidences of bears getting into garbage and bird feeders essentially stayed the same when bears were allowed to be hunted.
Scientific studies show there is actually a weak correlation between the population of bears and bear attacks. Bear-human conflict is more closely correlated with human behavior, according to The Journal of Wildlife Management. Indeed, some states with large black bear populations have fewer conflicts than states with much smaller bear numbers, a study by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies found. California, for example, which has 35,000 bears, reported just 259 interactions.
Hunting is itself inherently dangerous to humans. Since the 1980s, 10 people have been killed and 118 were injured in hunting accidents in Connecticut. Compare that to the number of people killed by black bears in the state — zero.
Priscilla Feral is President of the Darien-based Friends of Animals.