Lawmakers in the Senate endorsed on Thursday a bill intended to curb dangerous interactions between Connecticut residents and the state’s growing bear population by permitting the killing of some nuisance bears and prohibiting the intentional feeding of the animals.
The bill, which passed on a bipartisan, 31-3 vote, notably does not include a limited bear hunt in Litchfield County. That policy was requested by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection but rejected by the legislative Environment Committee earlier this month.
During a short debate on Thursday, the committee’s co-chairman, Sen. Rick Lopes, D-New Britain, called the policies included in the bill a “good step forward.”
“I want to emphasize a lot that no law, however well-crafted or extreme, will stop dangerous interactions between bears and humans,” he said. “It’s not going to stop.”
The proposal includes provisions under which residents could defend themselves or their pets against a bear or receive permits to kill nuisance animals that repeatedly damage crops and agriculture. The bill prohibits the intentional feeding of bears, however, lawmakers removed a portion of the bill that would have also prohibited unintentional feeding.
The policy advances to the House amid a rising number of interactions between humans and bears. Officials at the environmental agency have reported that human and bear conflicts have risen from around 1,000 in 2019 to more than 3,500 last year.
Some of the incidents have been harrowing, including a 10-year-old boy in Morris, who was dragged by a bear last year, and a 74-year-old woman, who was bitten in April.
DEEP officials testified in March that Connecticut was the only state in the region with a reproducing bear population that did not permit some form of bear hunting. However, animal rights groups and legislators from both parties have opposed the concept for years and argued that human behavior was largely to blame for the growing number of incidents.
Sen. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, said the bill passed by the Senate represented a compromise.
“There’s aspects of the bill that I think some individuals would like to see in that may not be in. There’s aspects of the bill that are in the bill that individuals may not want to see in but at the end of the day, I think what we see here is a collaborative solution to a critical, critical issue throughout our state,” Harding said.
Democratic Sens. Christine Cohen of Guilford, Julie Kushner of Danbury and Marilyn Moore of Bridgeport cast votes against the bill.