More Bears Seen in Our Backyards
Perfect Habitat for Forest-dwelling Bears
Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear of a black bear sighting somewhere nearby. I have seen them dart across woodsy roads and once came upon black bear scat too close to my house for comfort.
During the past 150 years, our woodlands have grown back from almost 80 percent cleared at the height of agriculture in the mid-19thcentury; today, 77 percent of our region is now forest and fields. We have perfect habitat for forest-dwelling bears, as well as other returning wildlife such as fisher and bobcat.
This is the time of year when bear activity increases as the bears seek food sources to fatten up before winter hibernation. So, this is an appropriate time to provide an update on black bears in The Last Green Valley.
The most reliable and up-to-date information on wildlife in our region is the Wildlife Division of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Its website is full of important and valuable information about black bears in Connecticut.
In the last year, from Oct. 9, 2017 to Sept. 25, a total of 7,898 black bear sightings have been reported within 146 of Connecticut’s 169 towns. Seventeen of the 26 Connecticut towns within The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor reported 41 black bear sightings. One of those reported was in my town of Putnam – about one-half-mile from my house. Just up the road in Thompson there were eight recorded sightings, the most in The Last Green Valley.
Bear Population in Connecticut
Connecticut clearly has a healthy bear population with the highest concentration in the northwest region of the state. If you see a black bear and would like to report it to the state you can call the Wildlife Division by phone at (860) 424-3011, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, or fill out the information field at www.depdata.ct.gov/wildlife/sighting/bearrpt.htm.
The May/June 2018 issue of Connecticut Wildlife magazine, published bi-monthly by the CT DEEP Bureau of Natural Resources Wildlife Division, provided helpful information on their efforts to keep track of bears. According to the article, the Wildlife Division uses several means for tracking bears including collecting sightings and reports by the public, marking bears with identification ear tags, fitting them with collars and radio telemetry and GPS devices and imbedding microchips or what are called PIT — passive integrated transponder tags — under their skin. The most visible marking you would see if Ursus americanus were to saunter into your backyard would be ear tags.
With the increase of bears in the state and the number of sightings called in by the public, the Wildlife Division understands there may be questions about why bears are ear-tagged and what the tags mean about a particular animal.
According to the CT Wildlife article, most ear-tagged bears have been caught as part of biological research efforts, not as problem bears. Bear sighting reports from the public provide important information about distribution and abundance of bears throughout the state for a long-running research project begun in 2001.
Every bear handled by the Wildlife Division is marked with brightly colored ear tags, one in each ear. The tags have numbers unique to the bear, and the color indicates the year the bear was tagged. Each colored tag has a three-digit number code. The last digit indicates the year, while the first two numbers indicate the sequence in which it was caught. Older tags may have a two digit number and/or letter code.
The Wildlife Division has also posted online resource information about black bears including “Black Bear Do’s and Don’ts” that are worth a quick read through especially this time of year when bears are busy feeding.
There has been an uptick in the number of reported problems with bears and this is primarily due to the presence of easily-accessible food sources near homes and businesses. It should come as no surprise that bears will become habituated to our neighborhoods if fed (intentionally or accidentally). Here are the very helpful CT DEEP Bear Do’s and Don’ts:
remove birdfeeders and bird food from late March through November.
eliminate food attractants by placing garbage cans inside a garage or shed. Add ammonia to trash to make it unpalatable.
clean and store grills in a garage or shed after use. (Propane cylinders should be stored outside.)
intentionally feed bears. Bears that become accustomed to finding food near your home may become “problem” bears.
approach or try to get closer to a bear to get a photo or video.
leave pet food outside overnight.
add meat or sweets to a compost pile.
When Hiking and Camping:
Bears normally leave an area once they sense a human. If you see a bear, enjoy it from a distance. Aggression by bears toward humans is exceptionally rare.
make your presence known by making noise while hiking. Hike in groups. If you see a bear, make enough noise and wave your arms so the bear is aware of your presence.
keep dogs on a leash and under control. A roaming dog might be perceived as a threat to a bear or its cubs.
back away slowly if you surprise a bear nearby.
run or climb a tree. If possible, wait in a vehicle or building until the bear leaves the area.
be offensive if the bear approaches you. Make more noise, wave your arms, and throw objects at the bear. Black bears rarely attack humans. If you are attacked, do not play dead. Fight back with anything available.
cook food near your tent or store food inside your tent. Instead, keep food in a secure vehicle or use rope to suspend it between two trees.
There is no getting around the fact that we have amazing wildlife residing in our region. Nighttime slumbers are punctuated by the sound of coyotes and owls. Bald eagles and osprey hunt our rivers, and that animal skirting your backyard might be a bobcat, fisher, fox or even a black bear. These animals are here to stay and should be appreciated for the wild creatures they are.
We live in a special place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. I hope you’ll join me as we care for, enjoy and pass on this beautiful place we are lucky enough to call home.
Bill Reid is chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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