The Basics of Living with Black Bears
Black bears are increasingly common in Connecticut. Reports of bear sightings, even in heavily populated residential areas, are on the rise. The Wildlife Division has also seen an increase in the number of reported problems with black bears. All residents should take time to make themselves “Bear Aware” and learn about best practices to both reduce the likelihood of an encounter with a bear and know what to do in the event of an encounter.
The primary contributing factor to bear problems is the presence of easily-accessible food sources near homes and businesses. Black bears that consume human-associated food (e.g., birdseed, trash, pet food) on a regular basis 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. Food-conditioned bears pose a greater risk to public safety and often cause more property damage to houses, cars, pets, and livestock.
Connecticut residents should take the following simple steps to avoid conflicts and problems with black bears:
BEARS NEAR YOUR HOME
Bears are attracted to garbage, pet food, compost piles, fruit trees, and birdfeeders. Make your place a "No-Bear-Food-Zone"!
- NEVER feed bears, intentionally or accidentally!
- Remove birdfeeders and bird food from late March through November. 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. Do not store recyclables in a porch or screened sunroom as bears can smell these items and will rip screens to get at them. Garbage for pickup should be put outside the morning of collection and not the night before. Ask your garbage removal company if they provide bear-proof garbage cans.
- Keep barbecue grills clean. Store grills inside a garage or shed.
- Do not leave pet food outdoors or feed pets outside.
- Supervise pets at all times when outside.
- Avoid placing meat scraps or sweet foods, such as fruit and fruit peels, in compost piles.
- If you see a bear in your yard, do not approach it! 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.
Watch this video on Managing Food, Garbage, and Other Attractants
BEARS SEEN WHEN HIKING OR CAMPING
Bears in natural settings normally leave an area once they have sensed a human. If you see a bear, enjoy it from a distance. Aggression by bears towards humans is exceptionally rare.
- Hike in groups and make noise periodically.
- If you see a bear before it sees you, do not approach the bear. Stay still and then back away quietly.
- If you encounter a bear while hiking and it is aware of you, make your presence known by yelling or making other loud noises. Wave your arms over your head. Back away slowly and do not run or climb a tree. If the bear keeps approaching you, use bear spray (make sure you know how to use bear spray before heading out on your hike). Black bears rarely attack humans. If you are attacked, do not play dead. Fight back aggressively with anything available.
- Keep dogs on a short leash when walking and hiking. This is for the safety of your dog, yourself, and the bear. 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 cook food near your tent, or store food, trash, clothes worn while cooking, or toiletries inside your tent. Keep those items in a secure vehicle or use rope to suspend them between two trees.
Watch this video on How to React if You Encounter a Black Bear Outdoors
BEARS, LIVESTOCK, AND BEEHIVES
Bears occasionally attack livestock (chickens, goats, etc.) and damage beehives.
- Protect livestock with electric fencing and move livestock into barns at night if possible.
- Reinforce beehives to prevent them from being knocked over or protect them with electric fencing.
Watch this video on Preventing Wildlife Conflicts with Electric Fencing
WHEN BEARS COME TO VISIT
If a bear is seen in your town or neighborhood, leave it alone. In most situations, if left alone and given an avenue for escape, the bear will usually wander back into more secluded areas. Keep dogs under control. Stay away from the bear and advise others to do the same. Do not approach the bear so as to take a photo or video. Often a bear will climb a tree to avoid people. A crowd of bystanders will only stress the bear and also add the risk that the bear will be chased into traffic or the crowd of people.
When/How You Should Report a Bear Sighting or Encounter
- You see a bear at a safe distance in your yard or on the trail: 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 online reporting website or send an email to email@example.com. 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 bear population. (Learn more about ear tags)
- A bear has damaged your property or you have specific questions about bears: Contact the DEEP Wildlife Division at 860-424-3011.
- If a bear is in a densely populated area, contact the DEEP Wildlife Division (860-424-3011, Monday-Friday, 8:30 AM-4:30 PM) or DEEP Dispatch (860-424-3333, 24 hours) to report the sighting and obtain advice. The mere presence of a bear does not necessitate its removal. However, the department may attempt to remove bears from urban locations when there is little likelihood that they will leave on their own and when they are in positions where immobilization is feasible. The department attempts to monitor bear activity in developed areas in coordination with local public safety officials. Coordination and cooperation with officials on the scene and local police officials is a key, critical ingredient in educating the public and assuring a safe, desirable outcome in such a situation.
- In the rare instance when a bear appears to be aggressive toward people, or other immediate public safety concerns involving a bear: Contact DEEP’s Environmental Conservation Police via DEEP’s 24-hour emergency dispatch line at 860-424-3333.
Connecticut is a member of BearWise -- Helping people live responsibly with bears!
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Content last updated in June 2022.