HARTFORD, CT — Environment Committee Democrats flexed their muscles Monday and completely rewrote a bill that would have allowed a black bear hunt in Litchfield County.
The new bill expands the current law for issuing permits to deal with nuisance wildlife.
Rep. Michael DeMicco, D-Farmington, said the new language adopted by the committee Monday amends current law which already allows the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner to issue a permit to kill wildlife that’s doing unreasonable damage to an agricultural crop. The new language expands that to livestock, poultry or bees.
The bill passed the committee 17-11.
The legislation also allows the person approved to kill the wildlife, which could be a bear, to keep it. A farmer, who doesn’t hunt, is allowed to assign the permit to someone who does hunt.
Rep. Maria Horn, D-Salisbury, said she has a lot of farmers in her district who have real problems with bears destroying their crops and taking their livestock.
“I am very pleased we shifted this bill,” Horn said.
She said she hopes farmers dealing with this issue are first resorting to “non-lethal” management.
However, an amendment that would require them to do that was withdrawn by Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford.
Mushinsky said she thinks the bill is “defective” without the amendment so she voted against forwarding it to the Senate.
“Without trying non-lethal diversion first … I think we have no business authorizing shooting of the bear, coyote, or whatever else is attacking the crops,“ Mushinsky said.
Rep. Ed Vargas, D-Hartford, also voted against the bill because he said the only way to restore the ecological balance to the state of Connecticut is to reintroduce timber wolves.
“It may create other problems down the road,” Vargas said. “But I rather deal with those problems than see bears shot.”
He said it was a mistake to eradicate the wolves.
Rep. David Michel, D-Stamford, said the legislation creates a “loophole that would allow trophy hunting on farmlands,” and that’s why he can’t support it.
Bryan Hurlbert, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau, said there are a significant number of beehives that have been damaged by bears. He said his organization welcomes the legislation.
Another bill, SB 894, which passed 27 to 1, would require non-lethal measures to be taken to help control the black bear population.
Both bills were forwarded to the state Senate.