The weather’s getting warm, flowers are blooming and … oh yeah, bears are waking up and looking for food. If you see them lumbering in or near your yard, don’t go near them, and don’t feed them.
The bear population in Connecticut is also on the rise - there are an estimated 300 to 500 bears in the state. That, coupled with Connecticut’s large human population, leads to an exponential increase in the number of bear-human interactions.
In 2010 alone, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection reports, there were some 3,000 reported bear sightings in the state that came from 115 of the Connecticut’s 169 towns. This spring, the DEP has already received several reports of bears coming into populated areas and interacting with humans and animals. When bears emerge from their winter dens, natural foods are scarce and bears are often attracted to food near homes. Though instances are rare, they may also attack livestock or even dogs that they perceive might be a threat to them or their cubs.
“As Connecticut’s bear population continues to grow, residents of our state should familiarize themselves with steps they can take to avoid contact with this species,” said Susan Frechette, Deputy Commissioner of the DEP. “Most unwanted contacts occur when bears are attracted close to homes by food – such as bird feed, refuse and residue on grills – that is made available to them. This can lead to more serious problems, including habituated bears that have lost their fear of humans. The best method to prevent problems with bears is to avoid feeding them by taking down bird feeders in the spring, keep garbage cans in a shed or a garage or tightly secured and keep outdoor cooking equipment clean.”
The two most common foods that attract bears are household garbage and home birdfeeders, which the DEP says should be put away during spring, summer and fall. Household garbage should be stored in closed garages or sheds. In cases where this can’t be done, ammonia should be added to the garbage bags and cans to discourage pilfering by bears and other animals.
Other things that can attract bears include pet and livestock foods, grease and drippings on barbecue grills, sweet or fatty food scraps in compost piles and fruit growing on or dropped from trees.
The DEP suggests the following to avoid contact with black bears:
1. Never intentionally feed bears.
2. Take down, clean, and put away birdfeeders by late March. Store the feeders until late fall. Clean up spilled seed below feeder stations.
3. Store garbage in secure, airtight containers inside a garage or storage area. Double bagging and the use of ammonia 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.
4. Avoid leaving pet food or dishes outdoors at night.
5. Keep barbecue grills clean. Store grills inside a garage or shed.
6. Avoid placing meat scraps or sweet foods in compost piles.
7. Protect beehives, livestock, and berry bushes from bears with electric fencing.
8. Keep dogs on a leash outdoors. A roaming dog might be perceived as a threat to a bear or its cubs.
If you encounter a bear while hiking, make your presence known by yelling or making other loud noises. Usually, a bear will move from an area once it detects humans. If it doesn’t, slowly leave the area and find an alternate hiking route. While camping, be aware that most human foods attract bears. Keep a clean campsite, and make sure food and garbage are secure.
Prevention and tolerance, the DEP says, are the basis for learning to live with bears in Connecticut, though it’s important to remember that while black bears regularly travel near houses, they’re rarely aggressive toward humans and can usually be frightened away by making loud noises, throwing sticks or spraying with a garden hose.
However, it’s not uncommon for bears that have found food, such as birdseed from feeders, to ignore such disturbances. In the rare instance when a bear appears to be aggressive toward people, residents should contact the DEP Wildlife Division Sessions Woods office at 860-675-8130 (Mon.-Fri. from 8:30 AM-4:30 PM) or the DEP’s 24-hour dispatch line (860-424-3333) during weekends and non-business hours.