The last time black bears were legally hunted in Connecticut was 1840, when the species was hunted so extensively that they nearly disappeared from southern New England. But a lot has changed over the last 173 years and the bears are back. The Environment Committee on Wednesday approved legislation that requires the state to investigate whether it’s a good idea to offer limited black bear hunting through a lottery.

Opinions on the issue were mixed. Some lawmakers on the Environment Committee felt it was just another way to raise money for state parks at the expense of black bears.

“We annihilated the bear population awhile back and now they’re showing up here and there,” Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, said.

But she said if you ask the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection how many bears there are in the state, they will tell you there are between 500 and 1,000.

Doug Hardy file photo
“Now, for a data person that’s just not a good enough number,” Urban said.

Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, said the bill is meant to help the agency through some tough budget cycles.

“Requiring the agency to establish a lottery is not in my view an effort to begin a bear hunting season. It’s an attempt to put in place all the logical processes that would permit the state to generate revenue from what is a state asset,” Miner said.

He said the plan is not unusual. He recalled that the lottery for moose hunting in Maine generates almost $1 million a year before they even sell a license.

Rep. Robert Megna, D-New Haven, said he believes the DEEP has the ability to establish a hunting season already. It’s his belief that the DEEP is just looking for political cover so when the public learns about the lottery, the DEEP can blame the legislature.

Miner said the legislation is necessary because it gives the agency permission to charge a fee for a lottery. Currently, no such lottery provision exists.

The bill passed the committee 16-8.