State lawmakers discuss proposed bear hunting measure

Debate held over bear hunting
Published: Mar. 10, 2023 at 12:09 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 10, 2023 at 7:02 PM EST
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HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) - Legislation that would open the door to hunting bears in Connecticut has been proposed.

The proposal came as state environmental officials reported a rise in bear sightings and encounters.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection released a report this week that showed two people were attacked by bears last year while 70 homes were broken into by the animals.

“We’ve had some really scary incidents of people being attacked, a small child being attacked last year,” said Katie Dykes, DEEP Commissioner.

Deep Commissioner Katie Dykes is talking about a 10-year-old boy in Morris who was attacked by a bear in October.

Dykes supports the bill that would allow a bear hunt in Litchfield county. The bill would create a bear hunting lottery there.

It would also set up a permit system for farmers to shoot bears threatening crops.

Friday morning, a group of lawmakers who belong to the CT Animal Advocacy Caucus and the CT Coalition to Protect Bears held a news conference to oppose a hunting measure.

“We’re addressing black bear human conflicts that happen near peoples homes. Hunting in the forest will not resolve the problem,” said Rep. David Michel, Democrat, Stamford.

“To suggest hunting as a solution to human-bear conflicts is wrongheaded and irresponsible because it won’t work,” said Annie Hornish, CT state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

The group believes the bear bill is trash, even going as far as bringing a garbage bin to their press conference.

But it also has a double meaning. They believe if people didn’t leave trash outside, or litter in their communities, bears wouldn’t come around as often.

“This is not a bear problem. This is absolutely a people problem,” said Professor Susan Marino, Trinity College. “People need to remove food attractants and haze bears when they come into their yard.”

Rep. David Michel, a Democrat from Stamford, and Rep. Nicole Klarides-Ditria, a Republican who represents Beacon Falls, Derby, and Seymour, said they support the intents of House Bill 5160, which includes a conflict-reduction community grant program that provides funding to communities for bear-resistant trash cans and electric fencing around chickens and beehives. The bill would also ban anyone from intentionally or unintentionally feeding black bears, establish bear cub rehabilitation guidelines, and start a system where farms will be compensated for damage caused by bears.

The bill looks to stop people from having bird feeders in certain months.

The feeders attract bears because birdseeds and grains have lots of calories.

“As co-chair of the CT Animal Advocacy Caucus, I can only express disappointment in the way the bill is presented,” Michel said. “According to experts, hunting in the wild will not fix the issue of habituated bears. Hunting certainly is not safe in residential areas, where most interactions take place. DEEP has unfortunately been pushing for hunting for many years, which is concerning.”

Similar bills have been turned down in the past.

But with an increase in bear sightings and encounters in the last year, some lawmakers feel this session could be different.

Advocates against the resolution said DEEP’s last bear population study that was made public was in 2016. They argued that since that time, the agency failed to use this data to help local town managers anticipate areas of possible bear habitat.

“DEEP publishes its estimate of the number of bears in our state using the number of bear sightings. It’s time education and science become tools in their Wildlife Division toolbox,” Michel said.

If it's passed, hunting on Sunday would be allowed across the board.