Black Bears sightings on the rise – where and what to do
Large, black, thick-furred, long of tooth and claw, come April or thereabouts they’ll awake from their winter torpor to a town that has most certainly awoken to them. Maybe you’ve seen one lumbering along with their golly-gee gait, in our woods, our meadows, our roadways—our yards. Ridgefield, like an increasing number of Connecticut towns, serves as home turf for black bears, those opportunistic omnivores whose presence begs the question: Will these bears we cross be a cross we bear?
They’ve smashed bird feeders. They’ve had their way with garbage. But of the 17 bear sightings reported in Ridgefield in 2018, harm to humans entailed nothing more than a few frayed nerves, such as those belonging to Brennie Denoyer of Blackman Road, who looked out her window one spring day to see a black bear on her patio. “I just couldn’t believe I was seeing a bear,” she says. “I thought I was losing my mind.”
Wildlife experts put Connecticut’s bear population at about 800—and growing by as much as 10 percent a year. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) advocates a management plan that would include limited annual hunting, but that’s been met with resistance, including from the state legislature’s Environment Committee.
For Ridgefield, our mix of untouched woodlands and manhandled landscape make it just right for a species with goldilocks predi-lections. Yes, black bears like their woods—for cover and food in the form of nuts, berries, and insects. But they’re also drawn to homes—for an extra food source in the form of bird feeders, garbage, and livestock. “They’re going to become more prevalent in town,” predicts DEEP wildlife biologist Paul Rego.
Call it a homecoming, of sorts. Though native to Connecticut, black bears were wiped off the map by the mid-1800s, the result mostly of deforestation at the hands of European settlers. But with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, as people gravitated to the cities, the cultivated land they left behind eventually reforested to bear-friendly habitat. Members of the remnant black-bear population of western Massachusetts eventually made their way south into northwest Connecticut, where they grew in numbers and spread. By 1990, state wildlife biologists had enough evidence to confidently conclude black bears had officially returned.
Last year, bears were spotted in 140 of state’s 169 towns and cities. DEEP estimates the state has enough woodland habitat to support ten times the bears’ current population. But, yes, human interactions have been on the rise. Statewide in 2018, there were at least 25 reported cases of bears entering Connecticut homes—nearly twice the 2017 total. In Bristol, last August, a bear famously strolled through the automatic doors of a liquor store.
Ridgefield Police have gotten reports of bears from one end of town to the other. Some residents are charmed. Others—not so much. “What if one of my grandchildren were out on the patio?” says Denoyer. “It’s not a plus, no.”
Wayne Loglisci of Madeline Drive isn’t worried. “I was like, ‘Cool a bear,’” he says, referring to the bear he saw last June on Bennetts Farm Road. “I love wildlife.”
“I love to see them,” agrees Michael Kralik of Olmstead Lane, an amateur wildlife photographer who has captured photos of bears in his backyard. “They’re beautiful, and they’re great to photograph.”
Wildlife experts stress that black bears are generally shy and wary of humans. The state has had no case of an overt bear attack on humans in modern times. Says Rego: “Not impossible, but very rare.” He hastened to add, however, that bears can become highly habituated to humans. This poses a danger—primarily for individual bears, since the state will euthanize bold bears who prove themselves nuisances.
“What we need to do is to learn how to live with bears,” says Donna Rosco, a former Ridgefield resident and Discovery Center board member who gives lectures about black bears. “Bears understand ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ but they don’t understand ‘maybe.’ Take away the attractant, and they will stop coming around.”
BLACK BEAR SAFETY
›› If you see a bear, leave it alone.
›› Remove bird feeders and bird food from late March to December.
›› Put garbage cans inside a garage or shed. Add ammonia to garbage.
›› Clean grills after use.
›› Don’t feed bears.
›› Don’t leave pet food outside overnight.
›› Don’t add meat or sweets to a compost pile.
In the Woods
›› If you see a bear, enjoy it from a distance.
›› If you see a bear, make enough noise so the bear is aware of you.
›› A roaming dog might be perceived as a threat to a bear or its cubs.
›› Back away slowly if you surprise a bear nearby.
›› Don’t run or climb trees.
›› Be offensive if a bear approaches. Make noise, wave your arms, and throw objects. Black bears rarely attack, but if one does, do not play dead. Fight back with anything available.
›› If a bear is in a populated area, contact DEEP Wildlife (860-424-3011) or DEEP dispatch (860-424-3333, 24 hours).
Source: CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection