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Wildlife Experts say don’t feed the bears

September 8, 2018

Brookfield resident Tina Heidrich said the black bear that ventured into her front yard was after bird feeders.

Heidrich, who lives on Carmen Hill Road, said she looked out a window and noticed a feeder missing from one of her trees.

Then she she spotted the bear — and the bird feeder.

“He was lying down and eating from it,” she said. “Then he got up and tried to climb up the tree to get to another bird feeder,” from which the bear also ate.

The August buffet marked the second time Heidrich spotted a bear this year; the first was in April. She said she reported the incidents to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Heidrich said she knows bird feeders can attract bears and that she’s likely to urge her husband to take theirs down.

Most black bears in Connecticut that find their way into people’s yards are usually drawn in by bird feeders or trash, according to data collected by DEEP between 2002 and 2017.

Fed bear, dead bear

The data tracked damage caused by bears that residents reported to DEEP. In 2017, DEEP received 291 reports of bird feeders, along with 380 trash bags or bins, damaged by bears in Connecticut.

Those numbers have been in the hundreds going back at least seven years, the data shows.

“A fed bear is a dead bear,” said a tweet from Paul Colburn, a certified graduate of DEEP’s Master Wildlife Conservationist program. “The number one and two causes of bears being put down are bird feeders and unsecured garbage.”

Those items, along with outdoor pet food, compost piles, fruit trees and berry-producing shrubs are considered bear attractants.

“Please take down the bird feeders,” DEEP spokesman Chris Collibee said. “Bird feeders should be removed from early spring through late fall.”

And if a bear pays a visit to a bird feeder in the winter, the agency said, residents should immediately take the feeder down.

“Bears that associate food with people may become aggressive and dangerous,” DEEP said. “This may lead to personal injury, property damage and the need to destroy problem animals.”

Other attractants

Heidrich said the sound of a truck spooked the bear while it was eating from the bird feeders in her front yard.

She said that after the bear was startled, it headed toward her house, and she was afraid it would catch a whiff of the barbecue on the second-story deck and head for that.

“But he just walked into the woods,” she said.

DEEP encourages residents to thoroughly clean grills and store them in a garage or shed after use. To ensure the smell of garbage isn’t luring in bears, DEEP suggests residents avoid taking the trash out until morning.

“Add a few cap-fuls of ammonia to trash bags and garbage cans to mask food odors,” DEEP said. “Keep trash bags in a container with a tight lid and store in a garage or shed.”

In 61 reports in Connecticut in 2017, DEEP data showed that damage was done to livestock or pets — though it did not specify if these incident resulted in injury or death.

Bears may attack sheep, pigs, goats, fowl and llamas. Attacks on horses and cattle are less common. Bears will rarely hurt cats or dogs, but they will go after pet rabbits in outdoor hutches.

Livestock can be protected by electric fencing or by a secure building at night, DEEP said. Beehives can also be protected with electric fencing, or with reinforced wire.

Growing population

Catching a glimpse of a bear in Connecticut has grown increasingly common.

Bears were eradicated from the state in the mid-1800s, and started making a comeback by the late 1980s. They returned, in part, because of the abandonment of farmland in the late 1800s.

In the 1980s, wildlife experts found evidence there was a resident bear population in the state. Since then, annual sighting reports have drastically increased alongside the state’s bear population. Each year, bear sightings are reported from about 140 of Connecticut’s 169 towns.

“Connecticut has a healthy and increasing bear population with the highest concentration in the northwest region of the state,” DEEP said.

Between Aug. 2, 2017, and May 21, 2018, there were 4,209 reported sightings of black bears in Connecticut, according to state data.

There are between 6,000 and 8,000 bears roaming New York, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation said; 50 to 60 percent can be found in the Adirondack region, 30 to 35 percent inhabit the Catskill area and 10 to 15 percent are in the central-western region.

Data from the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife division shows from Jan. 1 to Aug. 20, there were 643 reports of bears in that state — 152 of which were actual sightings and 491 of which were reports of damage/nuisance. This total number is down just over 13.5 percent from 2017.

To report a black bear sighting in Connecticut, call 860-424-3011 or report it online at https://bit.ly/2BYEcB3.

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