Most black bears prefer to live in the woods. One Connecticut bear, however, seems to be trying to decide between a city or a suburban lifestyle.
A 250-pound year-old male black bear was spotted several times on Sunday, June 9, in the Sanders’ backyard at 114 Old Redding Road in Weston. Homeowner Amy Sander thought it might be the same one The Weston Forum reported had been seen near Davis Hill Road earlier in the week.
It turns out the bear was a bit more “famous” than that.
The bear knocked over a bird feeder and then came back a few times to munch on the spilled seed. Homeowner Amy Sander called 911 and Animal Control Officer Mark Harper came to the house.
Mr. Harper said normal protocol when a bear is spotted is to “haze” or chase the bear, as long as it is not posing any immediate danger to people, pets or livestock.
“This bear was obviously hungry, and it was not acting afraid, but it did run away when I chased it,” Mr. Harper said. He chased the bear both on foot and in his vehicle until it went into the woods of the Trout Brook Valley Preserve near the Saugatuck Reservoir.
Mr. Harper knew this particular bear had been sighted in Connecticut before, because it had official bright pink tags on both ears, clearly marked “CT K-3.” So he put in a call to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Wildlife Division to find out how far the bear had traveled.
According to the DEEP, it was the same bear that was found up a tree on West Wooster Street near a school in downtown Danbury on June 4. That sighting captured the attention of Danbury residents — including Mayor Mark Boughton — for the afternoon while officials from the DEEP figured out how to remove him from the city center.
The workers from DEEP eventually tranquilized the bear and he fell into a net set up by the city’s fire department. They spent a few minutes offering the nearby school children an up-close encounter with a real — albeit tranquilized — bear.
Then, Mr. Harper learned this week, the bear was relocated to the Centennial Forest in Redding, not far over the Weston town line near the Saugatuck Reservoir. A week later, the bear had made its way to the Sanders’ yard.
Mr. Harper said a different bear was spotted a day later, on Monday, June 10, off Valley Forge Road near Devil’s Glen. The man that called that sighting in to Animal Control described the bear as “really big,” but it did not have tags on its ears.
A third bear was sighted later Monday afternoon across town. This one “destroyed a few bird feeders and got into some garbage cans” near Old Farm Road in Georgetown, Mr. Harper said. It, too, had tags, but they were orange, indicated it had probably been tagged last year.
Bear sightings are becoming more common not just in Weston — where Mr. Harper received about 40 calls about black bears last year — but across the state. The DEEP reports about 3,000 bear sightings were reported last year, and it estimates there are currently about 500 black bears in Connecticut.
Mr. Harper believes that for the time being, bears are here to stay. “I think we’re going to be dealing with them for awhile,” he said.
Mr. Harper said he spoke with Paul Rego, head of the DEEP’s bear program, and was told that relocating bears from more populated areas to more forested ones — like the huge tracts of open space that surround and run through Weston — is a practice the state plans to continue.
“Quite simply, residents are going to have to learn how to live with bears,” Mr. Harper said.
He urged residents to not panic if they see a bear, since they are rarely aggressive toward humans, but not to be foolish because they can obviously cause some serious harm if provoked.
“I advise people to observe bears from a distance in a safe and secure area. If you come close to a bear, make your presence known. Wave your arms to make yourself look bigger. Yell and scream and walk backwards and retreat to a house or car,” Mr. Harper said.
This week, Mr. Harper reiterated his advice after last week’s bear sightings to avoid attracting bears by removing bird feeders from yards, not leaving garbage cans or pet food outside overnight, keeping grills clean, and never intentionally feeding bears.
“While we haven’t had a problem with them yet, you have to remember, they are at the top of the food chain, they are a wild animal, and they’re unpredictable,” he said.
According to the DEEP, bear mating season is from June to early July and male black bears will travel extensively to find a female, which could explain the spike in recent sightings.
Black bears have a keen sense of smell and hearing. They travel and feed primarily at night but can be active any time of the day.
Bears normally leave an area once they’ve sensed a human, but if a bear encounter happens, the DEEP says to make noise and wave your arms — make a human presence known.
Also, keep dogs on a leash and under control, because a roaming dog might be perceived as a threat to a bear or its cubs. If the bear encounter is a surprise, stay calm and walk away slowly.