Originally printed in The Hartford Courant
by Priscilla Feral
Animal advocates often unfairly get accused of not caring about humans. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When it comes to black bears in Connecticut, wanting to protect them and the public is not mutually exclusive.
That’s why we are so alarmed that Rep. Karen Reddington-Hughes and hunting apologists are exploiting an incident that happened in October involving a black bear and a 10-year-old Morris boy to justify legalizing a bear hunt. They are misleading the public into thinking slaughtering some bears would stop rising examples of habituation. But success in preventing bears from losing their wariness of people depends on changing human behavior.
Not to mention, CT DEEP already has a “nuisance” bear program. For instance, three “nuisance bears” were killed in Connecticut in 2020 for entering homes, along with four others for “problematic” behavior. (DEEP has not fulfilled our requests for data from 2021-2022.)
Reddington-Hughes needs to know what bear experts know—bears come into conflict with people because we give them a reason to. Humans attract bears with an endless supply of high-calorie food, from bird feeders and unsecured trash to pet food left outside, chicken coops that don’t have electric fencing around them, and more. And then they think a bear deserves a death sentence for wandering through their yard.
There are more crucial details of the Morris police report, which was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. When police arrived on the scene, the bear was actively eating trash that had been dragged along the wood line on a separate occasion. Unfortunately, most people know that bears will eagerly take advantage of food sources but look away until one of those bear visits results in property damage or injury. By then the bears have learned there are no negative consequences, no longer see humans as a threat and are more likely to stand their ground or even approach.
You cannot manage for a random chance event, even in a scorched-earth approach—which hopefully nobody would advocate for, says Rich Beausoleil, bear specialist from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and co-chair, North American Bears Expert Team, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Bear Specialist Group. He explains that a hunt would be unlikely to target an individual(s) visiting residential areas, as shooting restrictions that close to dwellings are numerous.