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Connecticut Reports Record-Setting Year For Bears Entering Homes

A black bear.
Creative Commons
A black bear.

Bears are getting more and more used to raiding our trash cans and bird feeders for food. And as they get more comfortable with that behavior, they’re learning another one: coming into houses. 

It’s not even fall yet, but Connecticut environmental officials said this week that the state has already seen more incidents of bears entering homes in 2020 than in any previous year.

As of Sept. 10, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection reported 42 cases of black bears entering homes.

Jenny Dickson, director of the state's wildlife division of DEEP, said that number is off the charts.

“That is an incredibly large number for us in any single year and it’s only September,” Dickson said. “By comparison, I think, last year, we had 17 or 18. So it is a phenomenally large increase over the past couple of years. And it’s a definite sign that our bear population in the state is growing.”

Dickson estimated the current black bear population in the state at 800.

“It’s not just a situation that’s important for people in Sharon or Salisbury to think about,” Dickson said. “Our bear population is expanding statewide … they’re moving into some very suburban and much more urbanized areas [than] in the past.”

As fall approaches, bears ramp up their food intake to put on fat and survive the winter.

As the animals look for food, Dickson said, people need to work to break unwanted bear behavior. She said some simple steps are cleaning backyard grills, taking in bird feeders, not feeding pets outside and always securing trash.

“Bears will always take advantage of a free meal,” Dickson said. “That starts to teach the bears that they can get an easy meal when they’re around humans. That also starts to set up a pattern where bears are less afraid of humans.”

“It might be your feeders one day, it might be your garbage cans the next day, they might break into the screen porch the next,” Dickson said. “As they start getting more comfortable doing those kinds of things and, basically, learning that bad behavior, it sets up a situation where we’re much more likely to have bears entering homes.”

State wildlife officials have set up a “Be Bear Aware” online portal where residents can report sightings and get tips on how to interact with black bears in Connecticut.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter at WNPR. He covers science and the environment. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.
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