Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Senate Majority Leader Bob Diff, D-Norwalk, talks to Sen. Gayle Slossberg (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT—Instead of allowing a bill that would have permitted black bear hunting in Litchfield County receive an up or down vote, Democratic lawmakers in the Senate turned it into a bill to prevent the import, possession, sale or transport of elephants, lions, leopards, or rhinoceroses.

If you’re scratching your head, it’s ok. It’s part of adjusting to life in a Senate that’s evenly split between Democrats and Republicans and is still experiencing some growing pains.

“This was about playing gotcha politics over the people of the state of Connecticut,” Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said.

He said it was about trying to get “bad votes” out of Republicans. He said the Democratic Party is pushing the Connecticut people under the bus by introducing a strike-all amendment to a bill that has nothing to do with the premises of the underlying bill. 

The amended bill, which was sent to the Judiciary Committee after hours of debate, prevents the import and transport of five big African species. It is referred to as “Cecil’s” bill after the 13-year-old lion who was killed in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.

“We as a state should stand up and say we value these endangered species,” Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said.

Asked why he didn’t just allow the bear hunting bill to fail, Duff said he thought it was appropriate for his caucus to bring up amendments and bring up other issues and “speak to what we thought was important to us.”

He said at the moment there are 5,000 residents for every bear in the state of Connecticut, so the bear population is not currently a crisis.

Duff said the bill is among the top five issues he’s received feedback on this year from his constituents, and they are against allowing bear hunting.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, talks to reporters (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

Duff described the proposal to hunt black bears as an issue that was geographical in nature, stating that people in his area of the state don’t see a lot of bears and, therefore, don’t want to see them hunted.

Then why not let the bill fail?

“We have the ability as Senators to bring up other issues as we see fit and that’s exactly what we did today,” Duff said.

Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, said the bear population in his district is growing so fast that there is no way to control it.

“My constituents talk to me about it every single week,” Miner said, adding that he was especially concerned because the summer season was approaching “and he has 15 youth camps” in his district.

According to testimony on the bill, the black bear population has rebounded and bears are now common in parts of Connecticut. Males can generally weigh up to 450 pounds.

The bill, as written would have required the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection commissioner to establish a black bear hunting season, applying the same requirements and restrictions that apply to deer hunting.

The legislation had the support of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“Based on the tagging and tracking data gathered by the DEEP, the department estimates that Connecticut’s black bear population is increasing at a rate of 10 percent per year,” DEEP Commissioner Robert J. Klee said.

“In the absence of natural predators and with easy access to food sources associated with the presence of humans, it is reasonable to project that the population will continue to increase, with the overall population reaching 3,000 or higher (based upon observed density in similar habitats),” Klee said.

At the moment, DEEP’s bear management activities involve public outreach and education, research and monitoring, and intervention practices.