Rep. Joe Gresko, co-chair of the Environment Committee, brings out the bear management bill. Credit: Christine Stuart photo

The House gave final passage Friday to legislation banning the intentional feeding of bears and allowing Connecticut residents to kill the animals in limited situations like self-defense or protection of pets and livestock. 

The bill, which passed on a 115-32 vote after a lively debate, comes in response to a growing number of dangerous interactions between people and an expanding population of habituated bears. 

“It seems to be a daily occurrence, reports in multiple outlets, bear/human interactions are definitely increasing in the state of Connecticut,” said Rep. Joe Gresko, a Stratford Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Environment Committee. “Sightings, 70 home invasions, if you will, last year.”

Human and bear conflicts have risen from around 1,000 in 2019 to more than 3,500 last year, according to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Those conflicts have occasionally resulted in human injuries. The legislation did not include a limited bear hunt that had been requested by DEEP officials.

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Rep. Eleni Kavros DeGraw, D-Avon, recalled a 74-year-old woman who was bitten on her arm and leg earlier this year. 

“A few days after that there was a bear inside someone’s home. A few days after that we had a bear inside of a bakery. He managed to get away with 60 cupcakes,” DeGraw said. “Even though I’m sure I’ll be lambasted for this — he might’ve been Yogi. After that, it’s two bears at a Memorial Day parade where … children, people in wheelchairs. We had our 104-year-old vet sitting there.”

Like several other House members, DeGraw said the bill was not perfect but argued that state lawmakers needed to enact some policy to manage the bear population because “at some point, somebody is really going to get harmed.”

The bill sets conditions under which residents could defend themselves or their pets against bears. It also allows the state to issue permits to kill nuisance animals that repeatedly damage crops and agriculture. 

The legislation includes a new ban on the intentional feeding of bears. However, it does not ban the inadvertent feeding of the animals due to a modification made by the Senate last month. Several House members bemoaned that change during Friday’s floor debate. 

“The unintentional feeding of bears is just as big a problem as the intentional feeding of bears and, for some reason, the Senate felt the need to pass this amendment and we may be stuck with it,” Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said. 

“I would predict that we will still have a problem with bears as long as people are allowed to put food in unsecured dumpsters and unsecured trash cans and bears have access to it,” she said later.

The 32 votes in opposition to the bill came from members of both parties. Rep. David Michel, a Stamford Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s animal advocacy caucus, opposed several elements of the proposal including those intended to allow residents to defend themselves against bears.

Already, human-bear conflicts frequently end with the killing of a bear, Michel said. He pointed to the shooting of a well-known bear known as “Bobbi” in Newtown and worried the new language would encourage the practice. “For some people, just seeing a bear is a reasonable threat,” he said. 

Michel, who is originally from France, ended his lengthy remarks by urging his colleagues to embrace biodiversity.

“I’ll end it, not in French, but I’ll just make a roar – roar – That was so scary.”

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