Bears are breaking into homes in record numbers in Connecticut
The number of bears recorded entering Connecticut homes this year is already almost double the amount of recorded home entries from all of 2021, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Through Sept. 29, the state has recorded 65 complaints of bear home entries. It's a surprisingly large figure — and one that's more than double the average number of entries recorded each year from 2017 through 2021.
Jenny Dickson, director for DEEP's Wildlife Division, said the state's bear population has become habituated and food-conditioned by human behavior. "We've got a lot of bears who've learned to do bad things. They're teaching other bears to do bad things, and the population is continuing to grow," she said.
Dickson said bears are no longer just a northwest corner concern. "Anywhere in Connecticut can be bear country right now," she said.
Mistakes homeowners make
If a bear can smell it, it will come. That applies to everything from an uncleaned outdoor grill to the biggest human draw — garbage. Dickson said if her agency can "get one message out, it's really not to put your trash out until it's collection day."
Homeowners should only put their trash cans out the morning of pickup, not the evening before. If possible, consider purchasing a bear-resistant trash can. But it can cost hundreds of dollars. Some private trash haulers in Connecticut do provide bear-resistant bins for a higher monthly fee.
East Granby's animal control officer, Ryan Selig, said homeowners can try taping ammonia-soaked rags to the inside of the garbage can lids. "The scent of ammonia is unpalatable to bears," he said.
The next biggest draw for bears are bird feeders. Dickson said they should not be used from the beginning of April to the start of December because bears then learn that yards are the place for an easy meal.
A handful of towns in Connecticut have banned the use of bird feeders when bears are not in their typical winter hibernation. Simsbury is one of those towns. It bans feeders from April 1 through Nov. 30. The ban does not apply to Nyjer, also called thistle seed, because bears don't like it.
The Get Bear Smart Society said the best practice is to never hang bird feeders, even the winter months. It provides a list of suggestions for homeowners on how to protect composting, chicken coops and even beehives at bearsmart.com.
Should Connecticut have a statewide policy?
Wildlife biologist Jason Hawley said it takes only one homeowner in a community to create a problem bear. He told "The Colin McEnroe Show" that he believes Connecticut needs a statewide ban on intentionally feeding wildlife. He said that if a homeowner is knowingly doing something that is attracting a bear, state wildlife officers "don't have a tool to stop that from happening."
That's what prompted Simsbury to pass its feeding ban two years ago. Police Chief Nicholas Boulter said officials received a lot of complaints about people putting out bread, dog food and large amounts of bird feed to attract coyotes and bears in 2019. Boulter said that since the ban, town compliance has been good, but bear intrusions on properties remain about the same.
Dickson said Simsbury's ban is relatively new. It takes the bears time to realize "they're not getting the same rewards that they might have two years ago or three years ago. So it takes a little bit of time for those things to start to show meaningful results."
But in Granby and East Granby, which also have feeding bans, the animal control officers said they have noticed a decrease in the number of bear complaints.
When asked if DEEP would want a statewide ban on feeding wildlife, Dickson said it would be an effective tool to manage the bear population. She said it's something they continue to explore with the state legislature. "I think anything and everything is on the table right now in terms of discussions for better ways to manage our bear population moving forward, " Dickson added.
Should Connecticut allow bear hunting?
Connecticut and Rhode Island are the only two New England states that ban bear hunting. When Hawley spoke on "The Colin McEnroe Show" in August, he also voiced his own personal opinion that Connecticut should have a bear hunting season. Hawley believes part of the problem is that Connecticut's bears don't fear humans, and lifting the hunting ban would change that.
"Maine has the largest bear population ... in the lower 48. My in-laws live up there, they put bird feeders out in their backyards all the time, and bears don't come in and bother them because bears are afraid of people there and they have good reason to be afraid of them," he told "The Colin McEnroe Show".
But wildlife ecologist Laura Simon said hunting doesn't address the real reason bears visit our homes, which she believes is bears smelling food. She's with the Connecticut Coalition to Protect Bears. She said hunting does not reduce interactions between bears and humans.
“It's actually counterproductive to take out bears in these more remote areas because they're the ones who are eating natural foods. They're not causing conflicts and they’re teaching their cubs to eat natural foods and not cause conflicts," Simon said.
Simon said the only way people can cut down on bear intrusions is by addressing the root of the problem: homeowners unintentionally attracting bears.
Dickson said there is a way Connecticut residents could make bears more afraid of humans: scare it with loud noises. When a person sees a bear in the backyard, they can yell at it, bang pots and pans, honk the horn of the car. Some people even keep an air horn handy to let the bear know their yard is not a fun place to hang out.
DEEP has set up a website, Living with Black Bears, for information on how to cut down on human-bear conflicts.