Outdoors: More About Life With CT’s Black Bears

Hey, that’s not a dog.

Black bears (Ursus americanus) have become an unmistakable presence in Connecticut. Image courtesy of Dr. Tracy Rittenhouse.

Black bears (Ursus americanus) have become an unmistakable presence in Connecticut. As their population has grown, these adaptable omnivores have expanded their range to include both rural and suburban areas of the state, bringing them into close proximity with people. The increasingly conspicuous presence has raised many questions about the bear population. Dr. Rittenhouse studies where wild animals live and how they travel through habitats. She will talk about her a four-year research project studying Connecticut’s black bear population.

“Black Bears In Connecticut: When, Where, And How Many?” is a lecture that will be presented by Dr. Tracy Rittenhouse, UConn Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, on Saturday, Dec. 2, 1 p.m., in the Biology/Physics Building, Room 130, UConn Storrs Campus.

This Connecticut State Museum of Natural History at UConn program is free and advanced registration is not required. Visit www.cac.uconn.edu/mnhcurrentcalendar.html or call (860) 486-4460 for more information.

Some information from the CT Department of Energy & Environmental Protection:

Black bear habitat is forestland, usually with deciduous and coniferous trees, as well as streams, swamps, and rock ledges. Bears prefer areas with thick understory vegetation and abundant food resources. Mature forests provide soft and hard mast (e.g., acorns) in late summer and fall. Wetlands are particularly important in spring when emerging plants are one of the few available foods. Bears are omnivorous; they eat grasses, forbs, fruits, nuts, and berries. They also will seek insects (particularly ants and bees), scavenge carrion, and raid bird feeders and garbage cans. Bears occasionally will prey on small mammals, deer, and livestock.

The black bear is an intelligent animal with keen senses of smell and hearing. It can detect the slightest aroma of food, which may lead the bear to campsites and near homes. Odor from carelessly stored food and garbage can lure bears long distances. Black bears travel and feed primarily at night, but can be active any time of the day. Climatic factors, such as drought, may result in a food shortage, causing bears to travel many miles in search of food.

Black bears are generally shy and secretive and usually fearful of humans. However, if they regularly find food near houses and areas of human activity, they can lose their fear of humans. Unlike grizzly bears, black bears are seldom aggressive toward humans.

Females with cubs tend to have restricted home ranges which average 5 to 7 square miles in Connecticut, while males move about widely in home ranges of 12 to 60 square miles. The size of a home range varies geographically and often depends on the quality of habitat. Most ranges are used by more than one bear, but specific areas are rarely used at the same time. There can be some broad overlap between male and female ranges. In their home territories, bears may mark trees (called “bear trees”) along their travel routes by clawing and biting the bark. Black bears are good tree climbers and strong swimmers. They also can run up to 35 miles per hour.

As Connecticut’s bear population continues to increase, more bears, particularly young bears, will be seen near residential areas. The DEP’s response will depend on the specifics of each bear situation. The mere presence of a bear does not necessitate its removal. In most cases, if left alone, the bear will make its way to a more natural habitat. Removing food attractants, such as bird feeders, reduces the chance that bears will go near homes. The DEP seldom relocates bears. An exception may be made to remove a bear in an urban location when there is little likelihood that it can leave safely on its own and when the bear is in a position where it can be safely immobilized. DEP Tranquilizing Teams, consisting of Environmental Conservation Police officers and wildlife biologists, are trained and equipped to immobilize wildlife. Bears cannot be relocated to another state because no other state allows it. Bears that have persistent, serious, negative behavior, such as killing protected livestock or entering buildings, may have to be destroyed.

As bears become more regular residents of Connecticut towns, it is important that people learn to adapt to the presence of bears and take measures to avoid damage and problems. If people do not take precautions, problem behavior by bears can increase, possibly leading to bears being removed or destroyed.

Much of Connecticut’s landscape is now forested and is suitable for black bears. The rapid increase in the bear population between the 1980s and early 2000s is expected to continue. As the bear population expands, interactions between humans and bears will increase. People should learn what to do if they see a bear and how to avoid unnecessary conflicts by keeping food away from bears.

If you see a bear:

Observe it from a distance.
Advertise your presence by shouting and waving your arms or walk slowly away.
Never attempt to feed or attract bears.

Report bear sightings to the Wildlife Division, at (860) 424-3011.

In wilderness settings bears usually avoid people. But food attractants near homes can cause them to grow habituated to humans and disturbances, such as dogs and other noises. Bears are attracted by bird feeders, garbage, outdoor pet food, compost piles, fruit trees, and berry-producing shrubs.

To avoid attracting bears: Remove bird feeders from late March through November. If a bear visits a bird feeder in winter, remove the feeder.
Wait until the morning of collection before bringing out trash. Add a few capfuls of ammonia to trash bags and garbage cans to mask food odors. Keep trash bags in a container with a tight lid and store in a garage or shed.

Do not leave pet food outside overnight. Store livestock food in airtight containers.

Do not put meats or sweet-smelling fruit rinds in compost piles. Lime can be sprinkled on the compost pile to reduce the smell and discourage bears.
Thoroughly clean grills after use or store in a garage or shed.

Never intentionally feed bears. Bears that associate food with people may become aggressive and dangerous. This may lead to personal injury, property damage, and the need to destroy problem animals.

Encourage your neighbors to take similar precautions.

If you see a bear on your property you can either leave the bear alone and wait for it to leave or make loud noises from a safe distance to attempt to scare the bear away. After the bear leaves the property, remove anything that may have attracted it to the area.

Black bear attacks on humans are exceptionally rare. In most hiking areas, bears normally leave once they have sensed a human. However, at campsites and campgrounds bears can be attracted by poorly stored food and garbage. If you see a bear when hiking or camping, make your presence known by making noise and waving your arms. If you surprise a bear at close range, walk away slowly while facing the bear. Do not run. Try to stay calm as you make your retreat. Black bears will sometimes “bluff charge” to within a few feet of you when they feel threatened. If this happens, stand your ground and shout at the bear. Do not climb a tree because black bears are excellent tree climbers. Make sure your dog is on a leash and under control.

Sometimes bears are attracted to food that is prepared outside. Do not cook near your tent and do not store food inside your tent. Instead, keep your food in a vehicle or use a rope to suspend it 10 or more feet off the ground and at least 6 feet away from tree trunks. Even clothes that you have cooked in should be stored out of a bear’s reach.

Bears rarely harm cats or dogs. However, they will go after pet rabbits in outdoor hutches. Beehives also can be protected with electric fencing or with reinforced wire and metal strapping.

Deer season is open – respect the season and review commonsense safety tips for walking, hiking, riding.

Another reminder to co-exist outdoors while walking, hiking, riding. Fall deer season is in progress (it began Nov. 15). In Connecticut, hunting is allowed on private lands, most state forests, wildlife management areas and some state parks. In general, most hunting occurs during early morning and late afternoon. There are trail-mapping apps available for added hiking safety.

Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) recommends these safety precautions for enjoying the outdoors:

Let someone know where you are going and when you will return. Make sure you know the area you’re planning to go and know the activities that happen there. Wear brightly-colored clothing – fluorescent orange vests and/or hats are recommended. If you see another person in the woods, call out to them to make them aware of your location.

According to DEEP, hunters should always follow the rules for safe gun handling. Some of those include assuming the firearm is loaded, keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, and to be sure of the target and what is beyond it. Sportsmen must follow the fluorescent orange clothing requirements. They’re required that a minimum of 400 square inches be worn about the waist and be visible from all sides. An orange hat is strongly recommended.

Respect property rights at all times.

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