Wildlife encounters have been spiking thus far this year, including as many bears entering peoples’ homes in June as all of 2019 combined.
“Some of these interactions have been serious, including bears entering homes and gravely injuring both leashed and unleashed dogs,” says a statement from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “Already in 2020 (through July 8) DEEP has received more reports of bears entering homes (25) than in any previous year and we are on track to triple the average number of home entries of 2018 and 2019.”
Bears rarely harm humans and most local interactions with them involve damaged bird feeders and tipped over garbage containers and grills, said Cheshire Animal Control Officer April Leiler. When she does respond to a call, it’s usually to ensure that the bear doesn’t make it onto a major road like Route 10, where it can be struck by a vehicle.
“We haven't had any real issues with bears. We do sometimes have them getting into unsecured trash and we do have them ripping down bird feeders,” she said.
Cheshire only has a few bears living in the area, Leiler said, but since it’s a more densely populated region they tend to be spotted more often. Residents should still be taking precautions to deter bears from approaching residential areas, however, and she walks callers through the recommendations DEEP has to remove attractants like food outdoors, and even indoors in cases where bears are more of a hazard.
“If you have the slider open and you’re making brownies and there’s just a screen between them and the deck and the kitchen they’re going to come in,” she said.
The DEEP statement says that removing food that attracts bears is the most important step to making one’s home less attractive to scavengers like bears, since they have a strong sense of smell and can remember a food source for years. Not only will they return to homes where they were able to successfully find unsecured food in the past, over time bears will lose their fear of humans. Regularly cleaning trash bins, removing bird feeders between late March and November, avoiding leaving pet food outdoors and keeping dogs on a leash when outdoors, can all curtail interactions with bears.
“Black bears should never be fed — either intentionally or unintentionally,” said Jenny Dickson, DEEP Wildlife Division director. “Bears that are attracted to homes by easily-accessible foods lose their fear of humans. Such bears spend more time in neighborhoods and near people, increasing risks to public safety, the likelihood of property damage, and the possibility that the bears may be hit and killed by vehicles.”
According to an interactive map on the DEEP website, over 5,000 bear sightings in Connecticut have been reported thus far in 2020.
Most of the sightings occur in the northwest of the state, with Avon, Farmington, Simsbury and Torrington each reporting over 200 sightings.
Southington had the largest number of sightings in the Meriden area at 17, followed by Cheshire at 13. Meriden reported 8 sightings and Wallingford had 5.
Leiler said most of the calls for animal sightings she’s received this year have been for bobcats, coyotes and foxes around their homes.
Since instances of humans and pets being injured by wildlife is so rare, she recommends homeowners who want to deter them from their property to haze them by throwing tennis balls and creating a racket with pots and pans.
“We haven't really had any of those types of problems where there have been tangles with an animal,” she said.