Black Bear Safety

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Black bears are increasingly common in Connecticut and are impressive animals. Even a long-distance glimpse of one foraging in a woodland is an unforgettable experience for most outdoor enthusiasts. However, seeing a bear in Connecticut was once unlikely because black bears were extirpated from the state by the mid-1800s. Since then, bears have made a comeback and sightings, even in heavily populated residential areas, are on the rise.

Their return is due, in part, to the regrowth of forestland throughout the region following the abandonment of farms during the late 1800s. Beginning in the 1980s, the DEEP Wildlife Division had evidence of a resident black bear population. Since then, annual sighting reports have increased dramatically, indicating a rapid increase in the population. With the number of bears increasing in the state, it is important for residents to learn the facts about black bears and how to coexist with them.

Habitat and Diet

Black bear habitat is forestland, usually with deciduous and coniferous trees, as well as early successional habitat (fields, young forests, etc.), streams, and swamps. Bears prefer areas with thick understory vegetation and abundant food resources. Mature forests provide soft and hard mast (e.g., acorns) in late summer and fall. Wetlands are particularly important in spring when emerging plants are one of the few available foods. Connecticut has an abundance of suitable bear habitats across the state.

Bears are omnivorous; they eat grasses, fruits, nuts, and berries. They also will seek insects (particularly ants and bees), scavenge carrion, and raid bird feeders and garbage cans. Bears occasionally will prey on small mammals, deer, and livestock, especially deer fawns during late spring and early summer.

Bear Management

As Connecticut’s bear population continues to increase, more bears, particularly young bears, will be seen near residential areas. The DEEP’s response will depend on the specifics of each bear situation. The mere presence of a bear does not necessitate its removal. In most cases, if left alone, the bear will make its way to a more natural habitat.

Removing food attractants, such as bird feeders, reduces the chance that bears will go near homes. The DEEP seldom relocates bears. An exception may be made to remove a bear in an urban location when there is little likelihood that it can leave safely on its own and when the bear is in a position where it can be safely immobilized. In these rare instances, bears are released in the nearest suitable habitat, which is likely already a part of the bear’s local home range.

As bears become more regular residents of Connecticut towns, it is important that people learn to adapt to the presence of bears and take measures to avoid damage and problems. If people do not take precautions, problem behavior by bears can increase, possibly leading to bears being removed or euthanized.

Living with Bears

Much of Connecticut’s landscape is now forested and suitable for black bears. The rapid increase in the bear population between the early 2000s and today is expected to continue. As the population expands, interactions between humans and bears will increase. People should learn what to do if they see a bear and how to avoid unnecessary conflicts by keeping food away from bears.

If You See a Bear:

  • Observe it from a distance
  • Advertise your presence by shouting and waving your arms or walk slowly away
  • Never attempt to feed or attract bears
  • Report bear sightingsto the Wildlife Division (or email [email protected]).

Bears Near Your Home

In wilderness settings, bears usually avoid people. But food attractants near homes can cause them to grow habituated to humans and disturbances, such as dogs and other noises. Bears are attracted by bird feeders, garbage, outdoor pet food, compost piles, fruit trees, and berry-producing shrubs.

To avoid attracting bears:

  • Never feed bears. Bears that associate food with people may become bold, aggressive, and dangerous. This may lead to personal injury, property damage, and the need to euthanize problem animals
  • Remove bird feeders from late March through November. If a bear visits a bird feeder in winter, remove the feeder
  • Wait until the morning of collection before bringing out trash. Add a few capfuls of ammonia to trash bags and garbage cans to mask food odors. Keep trash bags in a container with a tight lid and store in a garage or shed
  • Do not leave pet food outside overnight. Store livestock food in airtight containers
  • Do not put meats or sweet-smelling fruit rinds in compost piles. Lime can be sprinkled on the compost pile to reduce the smell and discourage bears
  • Thoroughly clean grills after use or store in a garage or shed
  • Encourage your neighbors to take similar precautions

If you see a bear on your property you can either leave it alone and wait for it to leave or make loud noises from a safe distance to attempt to scare the bear away. After the bear leaves the property, remove anything that may have attracted it to the area.

Bears Seen While Hiking or Camping

Black bear attacks on humans are exceptionally rare. In most hiking areas, bears normally leave once they have sensed a human. However, at campsites and campgrounds, bears can be attracted by poorly stored food and garbage.

If you see a bear when hiking or camping, make your presence known by making noise and waving your arms. If you surprise a bear at close range, walk away slowly while facing the bear. Do not run. Try to stay calm as you make your retreat. Black bears will sometimes “bluff charge” to within a few feet of you when they feel threatened. If this happens, stand your ground and shout at the bear. Do not climb a tree because black bears are excellent tree climbers.  

Sometimes bears are attracted to food that is prepared outside. Do not cook near your tent and do not store food inside your tent. Instead, keep your food in a vehicle or use a rope to suspend it 10 or more feet off the ground and at least 6 feet away from tree trunks. Even clothes that you have cooked in should be stored out of a bear’s reach.

Source: CT Department of Energy & Environmental Protection