Friends of Animals is not only appalled that S.B. No. 522, a desperate attempt for a bear trophy hunt in Connecticut, was voted out of the Environment Committee, but that the committee’s co-chair Sen. Ted Kennedy, who has said “hunting is barbaric,” flip flopped and supported the bill after speaking with the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), an agency that profits from hunting licenses.
“From our observation as an animal advocacy group who also represent Kennedy’s constituents, we have been ignored,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “To say you understand everything about Connecticut’s bear population after a conversation with a pro-hunting state agency doesn’t make sense. It’s beyond disappointing that he took the bait and sold out his constituents and bears.”
Friends of Animals is placing ads in newspapers across the state to lobby against the legislation. The organization is adamant that it is no coincidence that DEEP released a report about a so-called increase in bear sightings in 2016 in Connecticut just a week before state Sen. Craig Miner, also an Environment Committee co-chair, introduced S.B. No. 522 to authorize a bear hunt in Connecticut, the first since 1840. DEEP has a history of stimulating sympathy for a bear hunt in Connecticut as it would be a money maker for the agency.
DEEP’s anecdotal report is not based on science, and doesn’t factor in that every bear sighting is not necessarily a different bear. It also does not say there have been more human/ bear conflicts. Moreover, DEEP is not even sure how many black bears are in Connecticut, its website reports: The resident population is estimated to be in the hundreds. The majority of the population inhabits northwestern Connecticut.
If the number of bears in the state is actually increasing, there’s no need to have a shoot-first mentality. What is needed is for DEEP to step up its education program about what to do when you encounter a black bear, especially in towns like Southbury, New Milford, Woodbury and Oxford, where more bears are supposedly being seen. Friends of Animals has observed a failure by DEEP to provide signage and education where the public might encounter bears such as nature preserves and forests where people hike. On its website the agency offers “Be Bear Aware” signage for people to print out, but that is not going to do a hiker any good when he or she is out in the woods and comes across a mom and her cub foraging for food in the spring.
Also DEEP does not promote the use of bear-resistant containers in areas located in black bear habitat under certain circumstances, including garbage collection. Bears can be opportunistic feeders and easily develop a taste for human foods and garbage. This common sense practice is now used in states with much greater bear populations, such as Alaska and California. In those states, removing easy access to human foods through the use of bear-resistant garbage cans has proven to reduce human interaction with bears.
Connecticut legislators cannot ignore that the 2010 U.S. Census revealed that Connecticut had a population of 3,574,097 people. Our state crams a significant amount of people into just 5,543 square miles—there are about 738.1 people for every square mile, ranking Connecticut fourth place in the U.S. in terms of population density.
Since humans are constantly encroaching on wildlife habitat, it is up to us to change our behaviors to be good neighbors to the bears and other wildlife we share our crowded state with.
Darien-based Friends of Animals, an international animal protection organization founded in 1957, advocates for the rights of animals, free-living and domestic around the world. www.friendsofanimals.org.