It is currently illegal to hunt or trap bears in Connecticut. Even for a first offense, violators can face significant penalties, including fines, imprisonment or having their hunting license suspended or revoked.
But lawmakers have recently introduced several bills, including 10 in 2023 alone, several of which propose to legalize bear hunting in the state either through a lottery-style system or a designated hunting season to manage the bear population and protect residents.
Bear sightings and interactions have become commonplace in Connecticut suburbs. Bears have entered homes, crashed birthday parties and routinely rummage through people’s garbage. While most bear encounters with humans are benign, last year a black bear attacked a 10-year-old boy while he was playing in his grandparents’ back yard in Morris.
For proponents of bear hunting legislation, this incident provided further evidence of the growing threat bears pose to humans, pets and farm animals in the state.
Those opposed to a bear hunt say they don’t dispute that Connecticut’s bear population is increasing. They just don’t believe hunting bears will decrease the number of bear encounters in suburban areas.
“We agree fully that bear habituation is a problem, but there are a whole set of solutions that we can utilize in the state to reduce conflicts just as they’ve done in other parts of the country,” said Laura Simon, president of the Connecticut Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, which works to rehabilitate orphaned and injured wildlife. The non-profit also collaborates with a statewide coalition formed to educate the public about how to co-exist with bears and to oppose bear hunting in Connecticut.
Simon believes changing human behavior is needed to reduce human-bear conflicts. One solution is for people to follow the tips suggested by the Bear Smart program, which focuses on reducing food attractants such as accessible garbage cans, unprotected beehives and free roaming chickens.
“The answer is to change human behavior to change bear behavior,” said Simon. “If people want to resolve the conflict with bears, we have tools for that. If you want hunting, that is a whole separate issue.”
Advocates say legalized hunting will only result in more black bears in the wild and orphaned cubs like those belonging to a black bear known by residents in Easton, Redding, and Newton as Bobbi the Bear. Bobbi was shot to death last year by an off-duty Ridgefield Police Department sergeant after she showed up on the officer’s property numerous times interested in his chicken coop. Bobbi’s orphaned cubs were sent to the Kilham Bear Center in New Hampshire.
Susan Winters, the administrator of the Redding Facebook group that originally polled and picked the name Bobbi for the furry local, believes most people know to safeguard their trash from bears. The same goes for removing bird feeders and not interacting with bears. But the more education the better, she said.
“Bobbi was a beautiful creature who we were all happy to share cohabitation in our environment,” said Winters. “[Bobbi] was respected as a wild animal and no one tried to make her into a pet or purposely feed her. As a wild animal, she did not understand that these chickens belonged to someone else. She was doing what she could to take care of her two tiny babies.”
State Rep. Anne Hughes, who represents Easton, Redding, and Weston, supports a bill proposed by state Reps David Michel, of Stamford, and Nicole Klarides-Ditria of Derby that would “address the intentional and unintentional feeding of black bears, provide a grant program to use nonlethal techniques to avoid conflicts, establish black bear cub rehabilitation guidelines and put in place a funding mechanism to compensate for structural damages made by black bears on farms.”
“It’s a bad idea to open up a bear hunt in the woods with random bears living their lives in their own habitats. It raises the risk for unintended harm to people, pets and livestock,” said Hughes “We need to put resources into public education. We need a robust campaign to reduce habituation and be bear aware.”
Simon’s group is also trying to convince state officials to allow for a bear rehabilitation center to be established in Connecticut for orphaned cubs. Wildlife in Crisis in Weston is currently the biggest rehabilitation center available in the state.
For more information, visit DEEP’s Living with Black Bears page or visit the Bear Smart program’s website.
Residents interested in testifying in writing about proposed bear-related bills can visit https://cga.ct.gov/env for more information.