Controversial bear hunting bill advances to Connecticut Senate
HARTFORD >> As the number of bear sightings in Connecticut continues to climb, state legislators are looking for ways to curb the population, and environmentalists are unhappy with the proposed solution.
S.B. 522, which would allow for the hunting of black bears in the state, has been voted out of the Joint Committee for the Environment Committee and is making its way to the Senate floor for consideration.
The bill would allow hunting of bears by those with a permit and license. The number of bears killed by hunters in the first year cannot exceed 5 percent of the current population.
Environmental groups have said it could cause over-hunting and it is just a way for the state to make money.
State Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., D-Branford, voted for the bill to move out of committee, but he said that he is not happy with the language of the measure.
Kennedy said recently that he thinks the public safety threat posed by an increase in some parts of the state warrants a discussion about how best to deal with the bear population, even if he himself is against hunting.
“I just think if I’m being objective here. I have to acknowledge there’s a serious public safety issue in parts of our state,” he said.
“I’m worried about the person who may be attacked by a bear,” Kennedy said.
“I don’t really like the idea of hunting,” Kennedy added. “I’m not in support of the bill as it’s currently written.”
The bear population is increasing by an estimated 10 percent per year, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Commissioner Rob Klee said in submitted testimony about the bill that hunting is an effective form of wildlife management with the right limitations.
“With the growing bear population, reports of nuisance bears and bold and aggressive bear behavior are increasing,” Klee said in his testimony last month. He added that the number of reports of property damage caused by bears reached 960 in 2016 and 43 bears were killed by motor vehicles last year.
The DEEP website lists reports of black bear activity from April 11, 2016, to April 5, 2017. Of those, there were two in Bethany; one in Milford; none in Orange and West Haven; and one in Woodbridge. The most, 565, were reported in Avon.
New Haven had six.
One bear that made its way through New Haven in May, dubbed “Boo-Boo,” was tranquilized and moved and released into a wooded area after it was spotted wandering the streets of the East Rock neighborhood.
Some groups have voiced opposition to the hunting bill, including the Humane Society of the United States, which promotes animal welfare for all animals. Annie Hornish, the Connecticut senior director of the national nonprofit, said that the state should prioritize educational outreach over “trophy hunting.”
“We feel that this is not the way to address conflicts from bears,” Hornish said Wednesday. “We have to learn to coexist.”
While the number of bear sightings reached more than 6,000 in the state last year, Hornish said that number has to be taken in context.
“When a bear walks through a neighborhood ... that same bear is going to get multiple calls,” she said.
Bears are easily susceptible to over-hunting, she said, and it is a species that does not reproduce quickly enough to rebound fast.
Maryrose Keenan, a Guilford resident, submitted testimony opposing the bill last month, and argued that removing things that attract bears in people’s yards and driveways — like open trash cans and low-hanging bird feeders — would keep them from neighborhoods.
Keenan said other states, like New Jersey and Florida, have had problems with over-hunting bears and almost wiped out populations.
“With only around 700 bears in the entire state of Connecticut, we need to protect our bears from a similar hunting frenzy and preserve these bears for future generations,” she said.
Friends of Animals, of Darien, also opposes the bear hunting bill and has argued it’s simply a way for the DEEP to make money from hunting permits.
There were two bear sightings in Bethany; one in Milford; none in Orange and West Haven; and one in Woodbridge. The most, 565, were reported in Avon.