Connecticut should fear the hunters, not the bears
State lawmakers are gearing up to promote a bear hunt in Connecticut, which would be the first in the state since 1840. The legislation for the hunt is being spearheaded by Environment Committee Co-Chair State Sen. Craig Miner who is seeking approval for a bear hunt in his own backyard – Litchfield County.
Stoked by exaggerated bear sightings, supporters are manipulating the public by marketing fear, so hunters, who represent just one percent of the state’s population, can rally support for what really amounts to nothing more than a trophy hunt to slaughter bears for mounts and rugs.
But what should really be stopped dead in its tracks is this legislation. And what supporters, including DEEP, which earns revenues through hunting license fees, isn’t eager to tell the public is that what they really should fear is the hunters, not the hunted.
Friends of Animals, through a Freedom of Information request, dug into state data and found that the math for the bear hunt doesn’t add up. What is adding up is the harm to humans from hunters.
Hunters in Connecticut killed 10 people and injured 114 in hunting accidents between 1982-2016. Compare that to the number of people killed by black bears — zero.
We also took a second look at recent reports about bear sightings and the bear population in the state. Here are the bear facts:
Black bears are not overpopulated. While DEEP suggest there were 6,703 bear sightings in 2016, an increase of more than 2,200, the report doesn’t factor in that every bear sighting is not necessarily a different bear. There’s actually just a paltry 200 bears in the Northwest corner, according a University of Connecticut study, and the state has a capacity for about 2,000 bears, according to DEEP’s own reports.
Additionally, there is a weak correlation between the population of black bears and bear attacks, a study in The Journal of Wildlife Management found. Bear-human conflict is more closely correlated with human behavior.
Black bears are shy, according to state bear biologists and are habituated into problematic behavior by humans. Instead of a shoot-first approach, what DEEP should be promoting is more bear mitigation efforts and public education campaign informing residents who live alongside bear habitats that from March through November they should bring in bird feeders, use bear-resistant garbage cans, avoid feeding the bears, clean outdoor grills, and don’t leave doors wide open. Hikers should carry bear spray and use bear bells while on trails so that unsuspecting bears with cubs are not startled.
DEEP already has a nuisance bear program in place and last year there were only five nuisance bears the agency needed to address. Shooting bears in a hunt does nothing to prevent bear conflicts. It doesn’t teach the ones who aren’t slaughtered not to be opportunistic feeders. In fact, the New Jersey Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Black Bear Activity reports show black bear activity actually increased in 2011 and 2014 when hunts were occurring in the state and the incidents of bears getting into garbage cans and feeders stayed the same. The new governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, has shut down the state’s bear hunt. Others states such as Florida have also canceled their controversial bear hunts, which caused public uproars.
Connecticut lawmakers should not get behind a hunt that encourages more gun violence at a time when it is an epidemic in this nation and puts black bears in the crosshairs of a minority of hunting interests.
Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, has presided over the international, non-profit animal advocacy organization since 1987. She has also served as president of the San Antonio-based sanctuary Primarily Primates and is a food activist and author of three vegan cookbooks. .