A black bear, Ursus americanus Courtesy: CT DEEP

Following a record number of home break-ins by bears and two reported attacks on humans last year, lawmakers are considering a wide-ranging bill to remake the state’s bear policy.

Currently, Connecticut is the only northeast state with a breeding bear population that does not allow bear hunting. This proposal would change that. It would allow a hunting lottery in Litchfield County and set up a permit system for farmers to shoot wildlife threatening agricultural crops.

The proposal will be the subject of a public hearing before lawmakers on Friday.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection supports the bill.

The state’s black bears have become increasingly used to being around people and are “much more bold and much more aggressive,” said DEEP’s Wildlife Division Director Jenny Dickson.

Those opposed to a bear hunt say the state doesn’t have a bear problem, it has a human behavior problem. The Connecticut League of Conservation Voters said hunting will not stop nuisance bears if homeowners don’t stop providing easy sources of food and that the state needs to do a better job of educating the public and investing in non-lethal solutions.

Human-bear conflicts skyrocket

Last October, a bear attacked a 10-year-old boy in Litchfield County. DEEP announced this week that there had been a second case of a bear injuring a human before then, also in Litchfield County. The agency said the bear was not caught, but it was not the same bear as the one that attacked the 10-year-old boy in Morris. That bear was euthanized.

The cause of both attacks is unclear, but they came at the same time bears lacked a key natural food source: acorns. The state had a widespread acorn crop failure in the fall of 2022. A study published in January’s “The Journal of Wildlife Management” reported human-bear conflicts increase when natural food sources are in short supply.

Dickson said that still doesn’t explain the record 67 reported home break-ins by bears last year, because the majority happened before fall, when natural foods were available.

State wildlife officials said bears will push through screen doors and windows because the animals are following odors from the kitchen.

The human factor

Residents of the state play “an important role” in keeping bears away from where people live, Dickson said.

The vast majority of bear complaints and conflicts reported to the state involve bird feeders and trash, which is why DEEP wanted the bill to include a ban on intentionally and unintentionally feeding bears.

This will give local officials and state environmental police the authority to fine violators, although the details of how that would be enforced, DEEP said, are yet to be worked out.

Dickson is asking Connecticut residents to take down bird feeders now that spring is near and bears are waking up from their winter slumber. She also advises taking trash out the morning of pickup, not the evening before.

Humans need to stop behavior that has taught black bears to associate “people with a way to get a quick snack,” Dickson said.

This story was first published March 9, 2023 by Connecticut Public.