June 5, 2023

Connecticut: Missed Opportunity to Manage State’s Black Bears

Article Contact: Fred Bird,

Why It Matters: The management of black bears – or lack thereof – in the northeast has made headlines over the past year. Connecticut garnered attention earlier this year when Senate Bill 1148 (S.B. 1148), legislation authorized the Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to adopt regulations that would establish an annual bear hunt lottery season in Litchfield County. However, on May 18, 2023, the Joint Committee on Environment wholly removed language that would have opened up a limited bear hunting season, despite the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitting a letter of support. Currently, it is illegal to hunt or trap black bears in Connecticut – a state where attacks on humans and their pets, and the destruction of property from bears, is a constant reminder of the state’s failure to implement a science-based management strategy.

Highlights:

  • On March 16, CSF submitted a letter of support for S.B. 1148, legislation that would have authorized the harvesting of black bears by establishing an annual bear hunt lottery season in Litchfield County.
  • On May 18, the Joint Committee on Environment completely removed any language from S.B. 1148 that would have established a lottery for the taking of 50 black bears from Litchfield County.
  • Hunting has been, and continues to remain, the most cost-effective, socially acceptable method of population management, and by authorizing a regulated hunting season, Connecticut would have bolstered contributions to the American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF), reinstated a powerful and effective tool that the DEEP could have utilized for managing the black bear population, and likely reduced human-wildlife conflicts.
  • CSF is disappointed with the removal of language within S.B. 1148 that would have authorized the harvesting of black bears and will continue to advocate for regulated hunting as an effective wildlife management practice across the nation.

On March 16, CSF submitted a letter of support for S.B. 1148, legislation that would have, as introduced, established an annual bear hunt lottery in Litchfield County, as Connecticut currently does not permit the hunting or trapping of black bears. However, two months later, on May 18, the Joint Committee on Environment wholly removed language from S.B. 1148 that would have established this lottery drawing for the taking of 50 black bears from Litchfield County. Since the early 2000s, Connecticut has seen a drastic and rapid increase in black bear numbers which has resulted in an increase in human-wildlife conflicts in residential and rural areas – a trend that is likely to continue without a hunting season. Most recently, on April 19, 2023, a 74-year-old Connecticut woman suffered bite wounds from a black bear attack while out on a walk with her leashed dog just outside of Hartford. In 2022, there were two documented black bear attacks in the Nutmeg State including the mauling of a 10-year-old boy in October.

Connecticut needs to only look a short distance to the south and observe the political posturing around black bears in New Jersey. On November 15, 2022, an emergency rulemaking was held to reauthorize the black bear season, after which a new Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy (CBBMP) was swiftly approved by the state’s Fish and Game Council. Governor Phil Murphy then signed Executive Order No. 310 which temporarily reinstated the black bear hunting season since.  According to the Governor’s press release, “Incidents reported to the DEEP from January through October of this year have increased by 237% compared to the same period in 2021.” CSF then spearheaded a partner sign-on letter in support of the CBBMP during the normal rulemaking process.

Compared to hunting, unconventional methods for population control (i.e., sterilization, contraception, etc.) are expensive, require a significant amount of manpower and are publicly funded by state resources. Importantly, these methods have not proven effective for managing free ranging populations. Despite the disappointing news coming out of the Joint Committee on Environment, CSF will continue to work towards authorizing a black bear hunting season in Connecticut.

 

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