It used to be rare to see wildlife like black bears out the open, but within the past few years it’s become far more common in some areas.
"Without a doubt, the population's increased," said Paul Rego, wildlife biologist for the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
DEEP has received reports of 2,734 bear sightings between Sept. 23, 2011 and Sept. 13, 2012 in Connecticut. That's a dramatic increase over past years, Rego said. Farmington has had the most bear sightings so far this year with 207.
"Farmington offers a diverse landscape with dense forest, wet lands, rock ledge hillsides and meadows where different species of wildlife thrive. When these areas are disrupted or decreased, the wildlife is forced to adapt or relocate," Farmington Animal Control Officer Charline Rogers said. "Because of the dry conditions, there have been increased sightings and reports of our native wildlife including deer, fox, coyote, bobcat and bear."
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Torrington (175) and Burlington (178) has the second highest amount of bear sightings, closely followed by Simsbury (167) and Avon (134), according to statistics posted on DEEP’s Web site.
"It's a combination of that area now being within the occupied bear range of the state and also having a [human] population increase," Rego said.
East Granby (32) and West Hartford (35) were on the lower side, but Angelo Dimauro, animal control officer for East Granby and Suffield, said it might just mean that fewer people are reporting it.
"I don't think Simsbury has any more bears than East Granby," he said.
Canton (89) and Granby (67) have had slightly more.
Ellington and Somers have had considerably fewer, with six in Ellington and five in Somers.
Contrary to DEEP stats, Avon police have received fewer calls about black bears — 29 from January to August in comparison to 74 during that time frame last year — according to Avon Police Chief Mark Rinaldo.
Simsbury, on the other hand, may have higher bear sightings than listed on the DEEP Web site, because residents may call the police instead of DEEP, Simsbury Animal Control Officer Mark Rudewicz said. He said he is in regular contact with DEEP and reports sightings to them when warranted.
Some attribute increased bear sightings to shrinking forests. Dimauro said that more wooded towns may have fewer sightings. Canton Police Chief Christopher Arciero agreed.
"With the expansion of residential and commercial development, the natural habitats of the mentioned animals gets smaller," Arciero said.
Rego said that he doesn't think this is the reason because some of the least developed parts of Northwestern Connecticut seem to have the most bears.
Bears' natural food sources are limited so they are making their way into neighborhoods, Rudewicz said. The New York Times reported Sept. 6 that bears from the Catskills to Colorado are going into towns to find food because summer droughts have "killed off the wild acorns, berries and grasses" they eat.
When there was more building going on in Connecticut, Dimauro said, that left fewer places for bears to hunt.
"Their main concern is to get the most amount of calories with least amount of work," he said, so bears may go for bird seed and garbage cans left outside.
And if bears are being fed by residents, they'll likely stick around.
In the past year, the region has seen bears, coyotes, bobcats, fisher cats, moose, deer, foxes, rabbits and other wild life, but black bears seem to be the most talked about.
Dimauro and Rudewicz spend a great deal of time educating residents about black bears and what to do when they see one, giving presentations and handing out pamphlets. Rogers said there's a lecture about coexisting with wildlife coming up in Farmington called Bear Aware. Dimauro is compiling a list of East Granby and Suffield wildlife for a presentation later this year.
The fascination in Connecticut with black bears could partially be because they're so large, according to Rego.
"Another factor is they’re potentially quite dangerous and another factor is that they have a large role in our culture," Rego said. "I've been told that the third most common animal found in children’s literature is black bears."
Recent Black Bear Sightings
Avon resident Tom Harrison wasn't intimidated during the minute and a half that a black bear meandered through his backyard on Briar Hill Road Sept. 1 and across the street into the woods by his neighbor’s home.
"He was walking slowly and didn’t seem to have a care on his mind," Harrison said. "He was on a mission that didn’t include my backyard."
Neither was Avon native Tahra Richardson when she saw her first black bear after it broke a chain-link fence at her friend’s house on Bronson Road and knocked down the bird feeder. She recorded a video.
"It looked like a bear in a honey jar," she said. "They made all this noise to scare the bear off and it wasn’t going anywhere."
Rinaldo said that others have been spotted on Woodhaven Drive, as well as near Fisher Meadows and Avon Mountain. There were even bobcat sightings on Deercliff Road before one was killed by a car last spring, he said.
Other encounters haven’t been as pleasant.
A mother black bear killed a cocker spaniel in Avon last summer.
Harrison saw two other bears in his Avon yard a couple years ago, one that knocked over a birdfeeder to get some food and another that walked near his dog right in front of the electric fence.
"Luckily, the bear didn't feel threatened and didn't take swipe him," he said.
In January, a man in Windsor shot and killed a bear at his home.
In July, a man hiking near the West Hartford Reservoir shot at a bear after it attacked his dog.
DEEP recently euthanized a "problem bear" that was a frequent visitor in a Madison neighborhood, and then also shot a bear in Keney Park in Hartford.
Connecticut residents can report bear sightings to DEEP online through its website or by calling the Wildlife Division in Burlington at 860-675-8130. You can also call your local police department's dispatch number or 911 if it's an emergency.
Black Bear Safety Tips
Whether a bear is aggressive or not, area police departments, animal control officers and DEEP provided the following black bear preventative safety tips:
- Don't leave birdfeeders out between March and November, according to DEEP.
- Keep your garbage cans in a garage or shed, not outside. Rudawicz said putting ammonia on the garbage sometimes deters bears.
- Avoid leaving pet food, bird seed outside and "food attractants" outside, DEEP advises.
- Clean your grills and put them away when you're not using them, DEEP advises.
- Don't feed bears because they'll likely return for more, according to DEEP
- Don't put meat or sweets in a compost pile, DEEP advises.
- Don't leave your dog outside unsupervised.
What to Do When You See A Bear
Rudawicz said that bears are generally passive creatures that won't attack unless they feel threatened or sense that their cubs are in danger. If they notice a human's present, they'll normally leave.
- Make noise.
- Spread your arms to make yourself appear bigger.
- Keep your dog on a leash when walking on trails so you can control it and it won't be perceived as a threat, according to DEEP.
- Don't run away because it might chase you, according to Rinaldo. Rudawicz advised backing away slowly.
- Climbing a tree isn't a good idea because bears are excellent climbers. DEEP instead recommends staying in your car near your campsite, if possible, until the bear leaves.
- Don't cook near your tent or store food inside it, according to DEEP.
For more information, visit DEEP's Web site.