DEEP: Special Report on Bears

Bears, Bears, Everywhere!
Adapted from an article that appeared in the July/August 1999 issue of  Connecticut Wildlife.

{Black Bear in Tree}
Black bear in West Haven before being darted with an immobilizing drug by the DEP Tranquilizer Team

In recent years, the number of reports of black bears seen in Connecticut has been on the rise. However, in the spring of 1999, reports of bear activity jumped dramatically. The Wildlife Division received 71 sighting reports of bears through June 1. During the same period in 1998, 25 sightings were received. Reports of bears damaging property, particularly birdfeeders, have become more common. Bears have also raided beehives, killed livestock and, in some instances, have been unfazed by the presence of nearby people.

The DEP, town police and fire departments and the DEPís Tranquilizer Team were involved in a number of bear incidents this past spring, ranging from a bear trapped in a tree in an urban area to bears being hit by cars.

Up a Tree in West Haven:  The wanderings of a black bear that visited the unlikely haunts of Shelton and Milford during the last days of April ended in an urban setting of West Haven on May 1. Although the bear had previously entered highly residential areas, it had opportunities to retreat into nearby undeveloped lands. Recent years have been marked by many episodes of bears wandering into developed areas and returning to wilder locations without human intervention. This bear had other intentions. The trail of sightings did not lead north into more suitable habitat but turned east into more urban areas. In the early morning hours of May 1, the bear was seen a number of times in West Haven and the reports were being monitored by local police. Finally, on the edge of the University of New Haven campus, a police officer was able to frighten the bear into climbing a tree. With the bear isolated, the DEP Tranquilizer Team was called to immobilize and remove the black bear. The Tranquilizer Team is comprised of DEP conservation officers and wildlife biologists with training and equipment for wildlife immobilization.

{Inspecting Black Bear}
The teeth of captured bears are examined to estimate a bears age.
{Measuring Black Bear}
The size of a bear's paw is also a useful indicator of a bear's age.
{Weighing Black Bear}
Biologists use a makeshift field scale to determine a captured bear's weight.
{Ear-tagging Black Bear}
Captured bears are typically ear-tagged to help with future identification.

The bear had climbed approximately 70 feet above ground level, complicating the removal effort. A ladder truck from the West Haven Fire Department allowed a conservation officer to dart the bear from the same height as the animal, but 20 feet away. When darted, the bear climbed beyond the reach of the ladder truck and, as the drug took effect, settled, immobile, in a limb crotch. A platform truck from the New Haven Fire Department, which is capable of reaching higher than the ladder truck, was called to the scene. As the truck was being moved into position, the drug began to wear off and the bear regained movement, tumbling approximately 20 feet, where it grasped a lower branch. Tranquilizer Team members were raised by the platform truck, close enough to the dangling bear to attach a safety rope and administer a second drug dose. Within minutes, the bear was being lowered by the rope to the ground.

While the bear was immobilized, Team members were able to inspect its two metal ear tags. The tags identified the bear as one that had been captured and ear-tagged by New York wildlife biologists in May 1998 after it had entered a developed area of Rockland County in southeastern New York. At that time, the yearling male was released approximately 65 miles west of the New York/Connecticut border. Now two-and-one-half years old, the bear weighs approximately 175 pounds. After its capture in West Haven, the bear was transported to northwestern Connecticut and released with the hope that it might wander back to its state of origin or at least avoid developed areas.

Raiding Birdfeeders in Litchfield County:  Another black bear encounter involved a 100-pound yearling male bear which was trapped and relocated from a New Hartford neighborhood where it had been raiding birdfeeders and closely approaching humans. Also, a 195-pound male was trapped and relocated from Litchfield where it had damaged birdfeeders and beehives and threatened livestock. Both of these bears were moved less than 10 miles to undeveloped areas. Although bears could easily travel back over such short distances, it is hoped, as recent research has indicated, that the negative experience of being  trapped and handled will reduce future, problem behavior.

Bears vs. Cars:  In North Granby, two yearling bears, still traveling with the adult sow, were struck by a car. One was killed and the second appeared to be seriously injured. DEP conservation officers and a wildlife biologist decided to capture the injured yearling because the extent of its injuries were unknown and its presence, along with its defensive mother, could have been dangerous in the residential setting. The yearling was located within 100 yards of the accident scene and the sow was believed to be close by. With the assistance of the Granby Police Department, the sow was located and eventually chased into a tree where she could be safely darted with an immobilizing drug. The yearling was captured and taken to a Granby veterinarian, Dr. Harry Werner, who examined it for injuries and provided treatment. The young bear had no apparent broken bones. However, the bearís behavior indicated it might have had a concussion. Because the yearlingís condition improved dramatically within a couple of hours of treatment, it was believed that the bear had a good chance of surviving if released. The sow and yearling were released together in a nearby undeveloped tract of forest.

Also in late May, a yearling male bear was killed by a vehicle in Simsbury within one mile of the busy retail area along Route 44. Two bears are known to have been killed by cars in the first six months of 1999. In 1998, a total of three were known to have been killed. Prior to 1991, Connecticut never had a report of a bear being killed by a motor vehicle.

Black Bear Do's and Don'ts
Bears are attracted to the garbage, pet food, compost piles, fruit trees and birdfeeders around houses.  Connecticut residents need to learn more about bears and how to reduce the likelihood of bears becoming a problem.

Do make birdfeeders and bird food inaccessible by discontinuing the feeding of birds from late March through November or by hanging feeders at least ten feet above the ground and six feet away from tree trunks.

Do eliminate food attractants by placing garbage cans inside a garage or shed. Add ammonia to trash to make it unpalatable.

Do clean and store grills away after use.

Donít intentionally feed bears. Bears that become accustomed to finding food near year home may become "problem bears.

Donít leave pet food outside overnight.

Don't add meat or sweets to a compost pile.

More information on   black bears.


Most Bears Are Not Removed:  Bears first become independent during their second summer, when they are one-and-a-half years old (yearlings). Male yearlings usually wander extensively before settling into a home range. Often the wandering leads to more frequent encounters with people, buildings and traffic. Many of the bears sighted in Connecticut are yearlings, which weigh between 80 and 120 pounds.

As Connecticutís bear population continues to increase, more bears, particularly yearlings, will probably move through highly developed areas. The DEP will evaluate its response options on a situation by situation basis. In most cases, if left alone, the bears will make their way to more natural habitats. As bears become more regular residents of many Connecticut towns, it is important that people learn to adapt to the presence of bears and take measures to avoid damage and problems (see sidebar).

The probability of a bear attacking a human is exceptionally low. Therefore, the mere presence of a bear does not necessitate its removal. Common conflicts such as bears damaging bird feeders can be resolved by property owners exercising some simple preventative measures. However, the DEP may attempt to remove bears from urban locations when there is little likelihood that they will leave on their own and when they are in positions where darting is feasible. The DEP attempts to monitor bear activity in developed areas in coordination with local public safety officials. Coordination and cooperation between DEP officials on the scene and local police officials is a key, critical ingredient in educating the public and assuring a safe, desirable outcome in such a situation.