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DEEP mulls bear hunting season

Reports of a growing black bear population and sharp rise in complaints about “nuisance” bears has prompted the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to put a plan in place for a limited bear hunting season.It is far from a done deal, and DEEP officials have not said what the population benchmark would be for a hunt. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is about to review the plan that would have to go to the Legislature. It will likely include a lottery system to control the maximum number of bears that could be taken. A fee would be charged to enter the drawing, and another fee to issue a license to lottery winners.In the mid-1800s, bear hunting was allowed here. Hunting and other efforts were successful in eliminating the bear population. In the 1980s, the DEP Wildlife Division acknowledged that bears had repopulated Connecticut. Since then, their numbers have grown considerably to an estimate of 500 to 1,000. The wide disparity suggests there are a lot of bears keeping to themselves in remote places.The actual number of bears in the state is hard to estimate (see this week’s Nature’s Notebook, Page A1). People do seem to report eagerly every sighting of a bear in the Northwest Corner, probably because the animals are large enough and rare enough that seeing one is a notable experience. Also throwing off efforts to get a true census of the bears is the fact that each animal has a 50-square mile territory, so a lot of people may be seeing the same bear.There is already plenty of talk and a lot of side-taking. Proponents say hunting is a natural way of life. There are plenty who want a chance at the meat, a valuable pelt or an impressive trophy. There are many people in the state who use game meat to survive.Opponents point out that they are mostly harmless creatures with which humans should be able to peacefully coexist, and they seem to be correct. At least for now.The DEEP says there is plenty of former farmland and other spaces put into conservation to support the current bear population, which is why the bears have come back. They also say that people need to stop feeding them by putting out birdfeeders and pet food and not securing their trash. Bears also seem more prevalent because trash includes human scents, lessening their instinctual fear of approaching homes, yards and businesses.The DEEP encourages people to report bear incidents, but its conservation officers will decide if a bear is actually a nuisance, or dangerous, and should be removed.Earlier this month, an 82-year-old Windsor man pulled out a 30-caliber rifle and shot and killed a bear in a tree in his yard. The bear had been foraging at a birdfeeder. DEEP (EnCon) Police arrested the man, charging him with violating wild game hunting regulations and negligent hunting. The case is now making its way through court. It is probably safe to say the man thought he had the right to shoot what he perceived as a nuisance bear on his property.DEEP advises that loud noises and movements will scare off a normal bear. Better yet, leave it alone and wait for it to move on.To avoid attracting bears:• 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.• Never intentionally feed bears. Bears that associate food with people may become aggressive and dangerous. This may lead to personal injury, property damage and the need to destroy problem animals.Encourage your neighbors to take similar precautions.Report bear sightings to 860-675-8130.

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