Last weekend, a bear injured a Litchfield man after the man stepped in to rescue his dog, which the bear was attacking. The man’s injuries sent him to the hospital, and the dog’s injuries sent the animal to the veterinarian. The bear, which authorities said had come into the yard to explore some bird feeders, disappeared into the woods.
Chances are, we’ll see that bear – one of the state’s 1,200 or so – again.
It’s July, the bears are awake, and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has reminded residents that the creatures are drawn to tasty calories found in bird feeders and trash cans. Last year, also according to the DEEP, on 67 occasions a bear entered a human home. The previous record was 45 encounters, in 2020.
In two of the 2022 cases, the bear attacked a human. Not even a decade ago, Connecticut bear home invasions traditionally numbered less than 10 a year.
This past session, Gov. Ned Lamont signed a law that allows killing black bears that create havoc such as damaging livestock, entering occupied buildings, or attacking people or pets. The law does not include – as some supporters wanted – provisions for a state-sanctioned, hopefully-population-decreasing bear hunt, as happens in states such as New Jersey. Such hunts aren’t popular with everyone; some conservationists argue that they are cruel – and ineffective in decreasing bear population.
Meanwhile, bears, raccoons, foxes, bobcats, and moose continue to make themselves known in cities and suburbs. Moose once were rare in the Nutmeg State, but in June, state environmental officials killed a moose that was walking along a roadway at Bradley International Airport. The animal did not make it to a runway and no flights were affected. Last Friday, a bobcat that attacked a camp counselor on Lyme’s Selden Neck State Park tested positive for rabies. (Adult camp counselors – including the one who was attacked – killed the cat.)
In a state that is roughly 60% forested, the animal/mammal population has gotten braver – and more visible. But bears – which can do the most damage – get the most attention. Scroll through Facebook and it’s hard to miss the videos – a bear family playing on a trampoline in Glastonbury, a bear gazing through a West Hartford sliding glass window, or living in a hollowed-out tree in the same town. Nearly every town has reported at least one bear sighting.
This is our future, and for all kinds of reasons there’s no sign these encounters will abate.
A recent global study using GPS tracking data for 43 species followed 2,300 individual mammals and compared animal movement in the spring of 2020 – when the pandemic hit with a fury – with animal movements from the year before. Where lockdowns restricted human activity – what researchers called an “anthropause” – animals tended to travel farther from their regular stomping grounds – some as much as 73% longer distances than prior to the pandemic, said the study. (They also traveled 36% closer to roads, which tended to see less traffic as we sheltered in place.) The mammals included reindeer in Norway and elephants in Myanmar, among other species. While people traveled less, animals picked up the pace.
It’s tempting to see these sightings as a sign that nature is stepping onto the stage as we stepped off, but the picture is a little more complicated. For one? Rank and file nature lovers were able to record evidence of wildlife wandering through their yards because many of them were stuck home and had the time to pay attention. Before we go all dystopian (Wildfires to the north! Moose in the garage!) scientists say the biggest driver to increased wildlife presence is human behavior, not necessarily animal. In fact, a decreased number of human drivers explains why road kills were reduced in Italy during lockdown. It’s also why there was less road mortality among hedgehogs in Poland, as well.
(Scientists are still figuring out why killer whales have been attacking and sinking boats. Let’s stick to land mammals, shall we?)
So here is where human behavior can work with bears. Remember that human-bear encounters can end disastrously, and not just for the bear. From the DEEP: Don’t feed the bears, either on purpose or otherwise. Do not put out bird feeders between March and November. Clean your grills and trashcans (ammonia works on the latter) to reduce any smells that might attract bears. If you pay for trash pickup, put out your bins the morning of, not the night before. Don’t leave your pets outside. Make your home and yard as unattractive to bears as possible. If proactive behavior can save a Polish hedgehog, there may be hope for the wildlife of Connecticut.