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Will 2023 be the year CT lawmakers finally authorize a bear hunt?

Black bear with cubs crossing road
Francesco Riccardo Iacomino
/
Getty Images
A black bear with cubs crosses the road.

A proposal to legalize bear hunting went before state lawmakers Friday.

Legislators questioned everyone from biologists to first responders tasked with killing problem bears about the idea of authorizing a more widespread hunt as the number of human-bear conflicts statewide continues to grow.

Supporters say bears don’t fear people and are getting too aggressive. The numbers back that up: Connecticut had a record-setting year in 2022 of bears breaking into homes, with 67 cases and dozens more attempted entries reported. Two people were also attacked by black bears last year in Morris and Torrington.

“We received thousands of reports of human-bear conflicts,” said Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which supports the bill. “Our objective and our motivation is not to reduce the bear population. It’s to reduce conflicts between people and bears.”

The idea of a bear hunt in Connecticut goes back at least a decade. The new measure would allow for a bear hunt lottery in Litchfield County and the killing of no more than 50 bears per season.

Over the years, bear hunting has been a tough sell for lawmakers. Versions of the idea failed to get out of committee or were amended in the state Senate, striking provisions authorizing a hunt.

But allowing a hunt has gained new urgency this year. Home entries are at record highs, and breeding populations of black bears continue to grow.

A 2014 UConn study noted a statewide bear population of 650 black bears, said Jason Hawley, with Connecticut’s DEEP. Four years later, DEEP estimated a population of 800 bears. Officials now say there are about 1,000 to 1,200 bears in the state.

Opponents say there are non-lethal ways to manage bears by banning bird feeders and securing trash cans. They point to a provision in the bill to ban the intentional or unintentional feeding of wildlife, which the DEEP also supports.

“Hunting has no impact on bears that have been drawn into communities to take advantage of easy food sources provided by homeowners,” Lori Brown, executive director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, said in written testimony.

“A large-scale hunt to reduce the population will not change the root cause of human-bear conflict in certain communities,” Brown wrote.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio'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 at pskahill@ctpublic.org.