Living with Black Bears
Bears Use a Familiar Strategy During Cold Winter Months
(Article from the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of Connecticut Wildlife Magazine)
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Black bears are becoming increasingly common in Connecticut as the population continues to grow and expand. Reports of bear sightings, even in heavily populated residential areas, have been on the rise. The Wildlife Division has also seen an increase in the number of reported problems with black bears. The primary contributing factor to bear nuisance problems is the presence of easily-accessible food sources near homes and businesses. Fed bears can become habituated and lose their fear of humans. Bears should NEVER be fed, either intentionally or accidentally. 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.
DO remove birdfeeders and bird food from late March through November.
DO eliminate food attractants by placing garbage cans inside a garage or shed. Add ammonia to trash to make it unpalatable.
DO clean and store grills in a garage or shed after use. (Propane cylinders should be stored outside.)
DON'T intentionally feed bears. Bears that become accustomed to finding food near your home may become "problem" bears.
DON'T approach or try to get closer to a bear to get a photo or video.
DON'T leave pet food outside overnight.
DON'T add meat or sweets to a compost pile.
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.
DO make your presence known by making noise while hiking. Hike in groups. If you see a bear, make noise and wave your arms so the bear is aware of your presence.
DO keep dogs on a leash and under control. A roaming dog might be perceived as a threat to a bear or its cubs.
DO back away slowly if you surprise a bear nearby.
DON'T approach or try to get close to a bear to get a photo or video.
DON'T run or climb a tree. If possible, wait in a vehicle or building until the bear leaves the area.
DO be offensive if the bear approaches you. Make more noise, wave your arms, and throw objects at the bear. Black bears rarely attack humans. If you are attacked, do not play dead. Fight back with anything available.
DON'T cook food near your tent or store food inside your tent. Instead, keep food in a secure vehicle or use rope to suspend it between two trees.
BEARS, LIVESTOCK, AND BEEHIVES
Bears occasionally attack livestock (chickens, goats, etc.) and damage beehives.
DO protect livestock with electric fencing and move livestock into barns at night if possible.
DO reinforce beehives to prevent them from being knocked over or protect them 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.
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 darting 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.
Where Are Black Bears Found in Connecticut?
Black bears occur throughout much of the state. Each year, bear sightings are reported from approximately 140 of the state’s 169 towns. Over 8,000 sightings were reported in 2018. Connecticut has a healthy and increasing bear population with the highest concentration in the northwest region of the state.
Why Are Bears in My Neighborhood?
Many homes are in or near bear habitat. The bear population is healthy and increasing in Connecticut and sightings have become more common. Bears spend time in neighborhoods because food sources are abundant and easy to access (birdfeeders, garbage, open compost, grills, etc.) They will readily use these food sources and revisit the same location over and over again. Bears that are attracted to human-associated food sources may lose their fear of people. Both you and your neighbors need to take steps to make yards and neighborhoods less attractive to bears, mainly by removing any food sources. Black Bear Do’s and Don’ts.
What Should I Do if I See a Black Bear in My Yard?
If you see a black bear in your yard, enjoy the sighting from a distance and report your sighting. However, be sure you are not doing anything to attract the bear to your yard. Attempt to scare the bear off by making noise, such as banging pots and pans, shouting or using an air horn or whistle. Once the bear has left the area, take a close look at your yard for potential bear food sources, such as birdfeeders, pet food, dirty barbecue grills, open compost, or trash, and REMOVE those food sources IMMEDIATELY. Bears have incredible long-term memory and will revisit places where they have found food, even months or years later. Bears that are frequently fed, either intentionally or unintentionally through birdfeeders or garbage, may become habituated and lose their fear of people. If a bear behaves in a way that is a threat to public safety, it may have to be euthanized by the department.
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 that you 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. Bears that find bird feeders will often repeatedly visit the site in search of food day after day and year after year. Bird feeders and other bird food will attract bears closer to homes and humans. When bears begin to use human-associated food sources, they will frequent residential areas, lose their fear of humans, and not flee when harassed. They can even cause damage by breaking into outbuildings and homes in search of food.
For those who enjoy watching birds, establish native plants in your yard and add water features to attract birds. These methods may increase bird diversity and prevent unnatural feeding of a variety of wildlife species. Learn how you can bring wildlife to your yard with native landscaping.
Is It Safe to Hike, Run, Bike, or Walk My Dog in the Woods?
Yes! It is safe to enjoy the outdoors regardless of what region of the state you live in or are visiting. Dogs should always be on a leash and supervised so they can be kept under the owner’s direct control and avoid interactions with wildlife. When visiting areas where bears are more common, hike in groups and make your presence known by talking or singing. Keep small children close by and on trails. Although black bears have injured and even killed humans in North America, such cases are exceptionally rare. Always be aware of your surroundings and if you happen to encounter a bear, follow the advice offered in the next question.
What Should I Do if I Encounter a Bear While Out in the Woods or on a Trail?
Remain calm and observe the bear from a distance. Do not approach or try to get closer to a bear. If the bear is unaware of your presence, back away or make noise which will often cause the bear to flee. If the bear is aware of you and does not flee, talk to the bear in a calm voice and back away slowly. Never run or climb a tree. If the bear approaches, be offensive. Make more noise, wave your arms, and throw objects at the bear. Black bears rarely attack humans. However, if you are attacked, do not play dead. Fight back with anything available.
How Can I Protect Myself from Black Bears While Camping?
Keep your camp site clean! Pick up all garbage and food scraps and store them in wildlife resistant trash containers. Store food in double plastic bags or tightly sealed containers and keep it in your car if possible. Contained food can also be stored in a backpack and hung from a tree at least 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet from the tree trunk. Never store food in a tent. When camping, sleep at least 100 yards from your cooking area and food storage site. If this is not possible, take extra precautions to thoroughly clean and store away all cookware and pick up any food scraps.
A common misconception is that a tagged bear in Connecticut is a problem bear, and 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, regardless of why it was tagged. Most tagged bears have not been caught as problem bears, but rather as part of a project to research the state’s bear population.
Ear tag color indicates the year the bear was tagged. For example, a bear with green tags was handled in 2019, and one with orange tags was handled in 2018, regardless of age, gender, or reason for tagging.
Each colored tag has a 3-digit number code. The last digit indicates the year, while the first 2 numbers indicate the sequence in which it was caught. For example, a bear with ear tag “03-6” would be the third bear handled in 2016, and a bear with ear tag “20-4” would be the twentieth bear handled in 2014.
Ear tags help biologists track bear movements and dispersal. Bears tagged in Connecticut have traveled as far as Vermont. Bears tagged in New York, Massachusetts, and even Pennsylvania have shown up in Connecticut. Ear tags can also help identify individual bears that have a repeated problem behavior.
A bear with a collar will also have ear tags. The collar helps biologists locate a bear and track its movements. Data collected from collars provide biologists with important information about the growth, movements, and health of Connecticut’s bear population.
Ear Tags Placed on Black Bears in Connecticut by Year and Color.
|Year||Tag Color||Year||Tag Color|
|2012||Blue||2002||Yellow and orange|
Why Can’t a Problem Bear Be Relocated?
Relocation of Bears in Connecticut: Although heavily forested, Connecticut is a highly developed state. No large areas without humans are available to relocate a problem bear. Relocated bears seldom remain where they are released. Bears, particularly males, have a large home range of 12 to 60 square miles and travel long distances. They have a strong homing instinct and may return to where they were caught or become a problem somewhere else.
Relocation of Bears to other States: Black bears cannot be relocated to other states, including larger western states like Montana or Colorado, because other states will not accept any bears, especially problem bears. States with growing or large bear populations have similar policies as Connecticut’s. Other state wildlife agencies would also euthanize an aggressive bear that is a public safety concern.
Relocation of Bears to Zoos or Sanctuaries: The Connecticut DEEP does not take wild animals that have become unresolvable human safety issues into captivity. It may be a feel-good solution for a problem bear to be moved to a zoo or sanctuary, but that is easy to say and hard to do. Black bears are not a high priority species for zoos or sanctuaries because they are so common. Zoos also do not have the capacity to take all problem bears that states deal with each year. Because black bears readily reproduce in captivity, there is no shortage of captive bears for zoos. Animals that are raised in captivity do well in captivity. It is difficult for a wild bear that roams in the forest for all its life to suddenly adapt to a small enclosure at a zoo or sanctuary. Even under the best circumstances at the best zoos, captivity cannot replicate a wild animal’s habitat.
What Is Aversive Conditioning and Why Is It Used for Bears?
Aversive conditioning is a technique that uses negative stimuli (i.e., shooting with rubber bullets or paintballs, pepper spray, loud noises, etc.) to cause pain, avoidance, or irritation in an animal engaged in an unwanted behavior. The bear learns to associate the undesirable behavior with a negative experience, and as a result, is more likely to avoid conflict in the future. Research on this technique has shown it has limited effectiveness, but may be valuable in providing a short-term solution to human-bear conflicts.
Do you need additional help and advice concerning nuisance wildlife? Check out www.wildlifehelp.org and select "Connecticut" as your state to get started. WildlifeHelp.org is supported by the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the Northeast Wildlife Damage Management Cooperative.
Content last updated on March 10, 2020.