On April 21, a 12-year-old female black bear with two yearlings bit a 74-year-old woman in Avon, Connecticut. The encounter occurred while the woman was walking her leashed dog in a wooded neighborhood near the Farmington River.
Officials and biologists from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Avon Police Department responded to the area. They eventually euthanized the 250-pound sow according to state protocol. The woman’s non-life-threatening injuries consisted of bite marks to her arms and legs. She walked home from the scene of the attack before EMS transported her to a nearby hospital to receive treatment. Officials will test the ear-tagged sow for rabies.
This is the first reported bear attack in Connecticut this year, and it comes as the Nutmeg State’s estimated 1,200 bears emerge from winter hibernation. But it’s not the first time DEEP has euthanized a black bear in 2023. Officials put down a 400-pound bear in Salisbury on April 17 after the bear repeatedly entered homes in the area, NBC Connecticut reports.
Human-bear conflicts continue to soar in western and central Connecticut, a recent DEEP report says. Home entries are increasingly common, as the state marked a record high of 67 in 2022. But the only management tools currently available to the public are non-lethal, unless the bear is threatening a person’s life.
A State Without a Black Bear Hunt
Connecticut is one of two states in the Northeast without a bear hunt. (Rhode Island is the other, and it’s home to an estimated single-digit-number of black bears.) The handful of hunters in Connecticut point to the growing number of conflicts as proof that lethal measures are necessary.
“Is someone going to have to get killed to have a season?” Northwest Connecticut Rod and Gun Club president Adam Murray asked the CT Insider. “It shouldn’t get that far.”
Senate Bill 1148, which is working through the state legislature, originally included terms for a 50-tag lottery hunt in Litchfield County, which covers the northwestern corner of the state. But the hunt proposal was stripped from the bill last month during its time in the Environment Committee.
“We don’t believe that most people in Connecticut want a bear hunt, and we’re glad lawmakers listened,” Ann Gadwah of Sierra Club Connecticut told the CT Insider.
The conversation around establishing a bear hunt has long been a contentious one, both in the state legislature and at-large. Less than one percent of the state’s 3.6 million residents hunt. The general sentiment toward hunting is one of judgement and disgust. Anti-hunters were dubbed “wildlife and conservation activists” in the local media, while the “hunters and farmers” advocating for the S.B. 1148 were posited as the opposite. Citizen activists and state legislators alike testified against “the wildlife slaughter bill,” which they also referred to as “a hunter’s bill wrapped in farmer’s overalls,” and “the death penalty for animals behaving naturally.”
Had the proposed hunt survived the committee gutting, it would have excluded many towns that have seen high concentrations of home entries and conflicts with bears, along with sightings of sows with cubs, according to the recent DEEP report. These towns—namely Avon, Canton, Simsbury, Farmington, Bristol, and West Hartford—are in Hartford County, which neighbors the county where Saturday’s attack occurred.
Can Non-Lethal Measures Stop Connecticut’s Nuisance Bears?
As it stands now, S.B. 1148 would allow for homeowners and landowners to request permits from DEEP to lethally remove nuisance bears that enter homes or damage crops or livestock. After a permitted kill, DEEP would direct the permittee on how to dispose of the carcass, which leaves questions about whether they could lawfully keep the meat to eat.
Any “intentional or unintentional feeding” of bears and other “potentially dangerous animals” would also be prohibited. This detail answers the call from the anti-hunting population—and its many legislative representatives—for the state to employ more non-lethal bear management strategies.
But as long as black bears keep biting humans, the state will keep spending taxpayer dollars to euthanize the bears while hunters (who would pay the state for one of 50 tags and use the meat after a humane harvest) watch from the sidelines.
“Public safety is DEEP’s top priority,” the press release from the recent attack reads. “It is DEEP’s policy to manage the black bear population to maximize ecological, economic, and cultural benefits while providing for public safety and property protection.”