DEEP Reminds Residents to be Bear Aware
Bear Activity Increases in Early Spring; Residents Reminded to Do Their Part to Not Teach Bears Bad Behaviors
(HARTFORD) - Early spring is the time of year in which black bear activity increases, following the winter denning season. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) reminds residents to do their part to not teach bears bad behaviors, by taking simple steps that will reduce the likelihood of encounters and potential conflicts with bears.
These steps are critically important because human-bear conflicts continue to rise and become more severe: in Connecticut in 2022, two humans were attacked by bears, and bears entered people’s homes 67 times, far surpassing the previous record of 45. These numbers are a sharp contrast to seven years ago, when bears entered homes less than ten times annually.
No matter where you live in Connecticut, you could encounter a bear, as sightings have been recorded in every town. Bears are also reproducing across the state, continuing a long-term trend of expansion into more cities and towns. Just seven years ago, bears with cubs were reported in fewer than 50 towns, while over the last two years, bears with cubs have been reported in more than 90 different towns.
A key part of reducing human-bear conflicts is depriving bears of access to human food. As the nation’s 14th most forested state, much of Connecticut’s landscape is suitable bear habitat, with plentiful natural foods. However, Connecticut is also the fourth-most densely populated state, so Connecticut residents must learn how to live with bears present in or near our communities. Human-associated foods (e.g., birdseed, trash, pet food) are calorie-rich and attractive to bears. Once black bears start to consume these human-associated foods, they become habituated (comfortable near people) and food-conditioned (associate humans, houses, and neighborhoods with food). As the bear population continues to grow and expand its range in Connecticut, and bears become increasingly food-conditioned, conflicts with humans will continue to increase, and food-conditioned bears pose a greater risk to public safety and often cause more property damage to houses, cars, pets, and livestock than non-food-conditioned bears.
“Human-bear conflicts are increasing – both in frequency and severity," DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said. “It is critically important to the health of our bear population, and for the safety of Connecticut residents, that residents understand that we have bears in our communities, and the role they play in preventing the habituation of bears. That starts with making sure our homes are ‘no-bear-food-zones,’ and keeping our pets supervised and leashed when walking or hiking.”
“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. It is important to remember to take down bird feeders by mid-to-late March and keep garbage secured and indoors until collection day. 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. It is up to all of us to help prevent bears from learning bad behavior.”
DEEP has several best practices for residents to follow to reduce the likelihood of an encounter with a bear, available on DEEP’s “Living with Black Bears” webpage, https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP-Living-with-Black-Bears. DEEP has also created a video incorporating many of these best practices, available here.
Additionally, DEEP supports SB 1148, which includes a section that would ban the intentional and unintentional feeding of potentially dangerous wildlife such as bears. Several municipalities have adopted ordinances implementing such bans, which DEEP has supported. DEEP believes that this bill, paired with widespread adoption of the best practices outlined below, can help reduce human-bear conflicts in Connecticut.
Make Your Place a No-Bear-Food-Zone
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.
- Take down, clean, and put away bird feeders by late March, or even earlier during mild weather. Store the feeders until late fall and clean up spilled seed from the ground. Store any unused bird seed and suet in a location not accessible to bears, such as a closed garage. Do not store bird seed in screened porches or sheds where bears will be able to rip screens or break through windows to access the seed.
- Store garbage in secure, airtight containers inside a garage or other enclosed storage area. Adding ammonia to trash cans and bags will reduce odors that attract bears. Periodically clean garbage cans with ammonia to reduce residual odor. Put garbage for pickup outside the morning of collection and not the night before.
- Do not store 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.
- 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 chickens, other livestock, beehives, agricultural crops, and berry bushes.
- Avoid placing meat scraps or sweet foods, such as fruit and fruit peels, in compost piles.
What to do if you encounter a bear
If you encounter a bear while in your yard or hiking, make your presence known by yelling or making other loud noises. Use a bear whistle to let bears know you are nearby. 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. If you are in close proximity to a bear, DO NOT try to first get a photo or video. Your first priority should be getting a safe distance between yourself and the bear.
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.
Reporting a bear sighting
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 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 that a bear with two ear tags was caught on two different occasions because it was causing problems. Actually, 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.
To learn more about Connecticut’s black bear population, read our current Bear Report here: The State of the Bears (ct.gov)
A portion of this press release was provided by BearWise®, a program created by bear biologists, and supported by State Wildlife Agencies.
Photo: Bear dragging a garbage bag. Photo credit: Kyle Testerman/CT DEEP Wildlife Division
Suggested Caption: All Connecticut residents need to become "Bear Aware" to prevent teaching bears bad habits that put their safety—and yours—at risk.