DEEP Encourages Continued Bear Awareness During Fall: Bears Increase Food Intake and Are More Active
New Bear Management Law Takes Effect on October 1
(HARTFORD, CT) — The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is reminding residents to follow best practices to reduce the likelihood of an encounter with a bear this fall, as bears’ quest for more food before the winter makes them very active for the next few months. During the fall season, black bears increase their food intake to add fat reserves needed to help them survive winter.
Conflicts with bears have tripled over the last five years in Connecticut and bears have been sighted in all of the state’s 169 cities and towns. During fall, bears forage for calorie-packed nuts and seeds for up to 20 hours a day in a race against the clock. This annual power-eating marathon is called hyperphagia. During hyperphagia, bears can eat upwards of 20,000 calories a day - 10 times the calories they normally consume. Their goal is to put on as much weight and insulating fat as possible before turning in for the winter. Even bears that live in warmer climates to our south and den later, or sometimes not at all, still go into hyperphagia in the fall.
A pound of acorns has about 2,100 calories; a pound of blueberries, just 256 calories. It takes many hours of foraging each day for bears to find 20,000 calories’ worth of nuts and berries, but there is plenty of naturally-occurring food for bears to find. However, just one bird feeder full of black oil sunflower seed or one garbage container with leftovers can reward a bear with a day’s worth of calories for less than an hour’s work, making human-provided foods even more tempting.
“It’s critical that everyone understands the role they play in keeping people and bears safe as bears get more active this season,” said DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes. “Bears losing their fear of humans is a learned behavior that puts them and the public at risk. We encourage bear awareness with proven tools to increase public safety and reduce bear-human conflicts.”
Black bears that consume human-associated food (e.g., birdseed, trash, pet food) on a regular basis become habituated (comfortable around people) and food-conditioned (associate humans with food). As the bear population continues to grow, and bears become increasingly food-conditioned, conflicts with humans will continue to increase, and food-conditioned bears pose a greater risk to themselves as well as public safety, and often cause more property damage to houses, cars, pets, and livestock.
“Black bears should never be fed – either intentionally or unintentionally,” said Jenny Dickson, DEEP Wildlife Division Director. “Bears that are attracted to homes by easily accessible foods lose their fear of humans. Bears that are rewarded by easy meals spend more time in neighborhoods and near people, increasing risks to public safety, the likelihood of property damage, and the possibility that the bears may be hit and killed by vehicles.”
DEEP recommends several best practices for residents to reduce the likelihood of an encounter with a bear, available online on DEEP’s “Living with Black Bears” website, https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP-Living-with-Black-Bears. DEEP has also created a video incorporating many of these best practices, available here.
Make Your Place a No-Bear-Food-Zone
If you encounter a bear while in your yard or hiking, make your presence known by yelling or making other loud noises. Never attempt to get closer to a bear. If a bear does not retreat, slowly leave the area. If in your yard, go into your house, garage, or other structure. If the bear persistently approaches, go on the offensive—shout, wave your arms, and throw sticks or rocks. If your dog is hiking with you, it is imperative that you keep the dog on a SHORT leash and DO NOT let it roam free – this is for the safety of your dog, yourself, and the bear.
Everyone can be a good neighbor and take steps to reduce encounters and potential conflicts with bears. The most important step is to remove food attractants, such as bird seed and unsecured garbage:
- NEVER feed bears.
- If you choose to put out bird feeders, do so in the winter months from December through late-March when bears are in their dens. Although most bears enter dens at some point, some can remain active for portions of or the entire winter season if food is available. It is important to clean up spilled seeds from the ground when feeding over winter and remove bird feeders at the first sign of bear activity. If you live in an area with bears, it is best to avoid bird feeders altogether.
- Store garbage in secure, airtight containers inside a garage or storage area. Adding ammonia to cans and inside bags will reduce odors that attract bears. Periodically clean garbage cans with ammonia to reduce residual odor. Garbage for pickup should be put outside the morning of collection and not the night before.
- Do not store leftover bird seed, suet cakes, or recyclables in a porch or screened sunroom as bears can smell these items and will rip screens to get at them.
- Keep barbecue grills clean. Store grills inside a garage or shed (and remove any fuel source before storing).
- Supervise dogs at all times when outside. Keep dogs on a short leash when walking and hiking. A roaming dog might be perceived as a threat to a bear or its cubs. (Dogs are required to be on a leash when visiting State Parks, State Forests, and Wildlife Management Areas. Check dog and leash regulations for town properties, land trusts, and other public properties before heading to those areas.)
- Do not leave pet food outdoors or feed pets outside.
- Use electric fencing to protect beehives, agricultural crops, berry bushes, chickens, and other livestock.
- Avoid placing meat scraps or sweet foods, such as fruit and fruit peels, in compost piles.
- Never toss leftover food outside “for the animals to clean up,” as that can be a source of food for bears.
In the rare instance when a bear appears to be aggressive toward people, residents should immediately contact DEEP’s 24-hour dispatch line at 860-424-3333.
New Law for Bear Management and Permitted Take
In 2023, the Connecticut General Assembly passed, and the governor signed into law, Senate Bill 1149/Public Act 23-77 to provide creative strategies to address increasing conflicts caused by Connecticut’s expanding black bear population. This law goes into effect this Sunday, October 1.
The new law allows the issuance of permits for bear damage related to agricultural crops, livestock, or apiaries when non-lethal efforts are unreasonable or ineffective, bans the intentional feeding of potentially dangerous animals (including bears), and establishes the right to use deadly force to defend oneself, other people, and one’s pets if attacked, in certain circumstances. DEEP has launched a frequently asked questions webpage about the new law: Bear Management in CT: Regulatory Timeline
Bear sightings reported by the public provide valuable information to assist DEEP in monitoring changes in the black bear population. Anyone who observes a black bear in Connecticut is encouraged to report the sighting on DEEP’s website at https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Wildlife/Report-a-Wildlife-Sighting, or send an email to the Wildlife Division at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information on the presence or absence of ear tags, including tag color and numbers, is particularly valuable. A common misconception is that a tagged bear is a problem bear, and a bear with two ear tags was caught on two different occasions because it was causing problems. Every bear receives two ear tags (one in each ear) the first time it is handled by DEEP biologists. Most tagged bears have not been caught as problem bears, but rather as part of a project researching the state’s population.
A portion of this press release was provided by BearWise®, a program created by bear biologists and supported by state wildlife agencies. www.BearWise.org
Everyone can be a good neighbor and take steps to reduce encounters and potential conflicts with bears. The most important step is to remove food attractants, such as bird seed and unsecured garbage.
Photo credit: Kyle Testerman/CT DEEP Wildlife Division