Connecticut – This week, state environmental officials issued a warning about black bears looking for additional food before the colder months arrive.
During the fall, black bears increase their food intake to add reserves of fat needed to help them survive the winter, officials from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said.
“The pursuit of more food makes the bears very active,” DEEP officials said.
DEEP officials are issuing several pointers on best practices to reduce the likelihood of encountering a bear.
- During the fall, bears forage on calorie-packed nuts and seeds for up to 20 hours a day in a race against time. The annual marathon of energy consumption is called overeating. During overeating, bears need to eat 10 times the calories they normally consume – a minimum of 20,000 calories per day. Their goal is to gain weight and isolate fat as much as possible before turning for winter. Even bears that live in the warmer climates of our south and den later, or sometimes not at all, are still overeating in the fall.
- A pound of walnuts contains about 2,100 calories. A pound of blueberries, only 256 calories. It takes several hours of foraging each day for bears to find the equivalent of 20,000 calories from nuts and berries. But one bird feeder full of black oil sunflower seeds or one litter container full of food scraps can reward a bear a day’s worth of calories for less than an hour’s work. It’s no wonder human foods can be more tempting as winter approaches.
- Black bears that consume food associated with humans (such as bird seed, litter, and pet food) have become habitual (comfortable around people) and food-adapted (associating humans with food). As the Connecticut bear population continues to grow and expand, and bears become increasingly conditioned to food, conflicts with humans will continue to increase, food-adapted bears posing a greater public safety risk and often causing more property damage to homes, cars, pets, and livestock.
“Black bears should never be fed — either intentionally or unintentionally,” said Jenny Dix, director of DEEP’s wildlife division. “Bears who are attracted to homes by easily accessible foods lose their fear of humans. It is important to remember to keep outdoor grills clean and litter secured and indoors until collection day to avoid giving bears a tempting snack. Bears that are easily rewarded spend more time in meals Neighborhoods and near people, which increases risks to public safety, the potential for property damage, and the potential for bears to be injured and killed by vehicles.
“It’s up to all of us to help prevent bears from learning bad behavior.”
More pointers are on DEEP’s Living with Black Bears webpage: https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP-Living-with-Black-Bears. DEEP has also created a video with many of these best practices, available here.
Senior officials are asking residents to make their yards “bear-free dining areas”.
For bear encounters, DEEP officials say:
- Make your presence known by screaming or making other loud noises. Never try to get close to a bear.
- If the bear does not back off, slowly leave the area. I
- If you’re in your garden, enter your home, garage, or other building. If the bear persistently approaches, go to the attack – shout, wave your arms and throw sticks or stones.
- If your dog is walking with you, it is imperative that you keep the dog on a short leash and do not let him roam free – this is for the safety of your dog, yourself and the bear.
The most important step is to remove the nutrients:
- Never feed bears.
- If you choose to place bird feeders, do so in the winter months of December through late March when the bears are in their dens. Although most bears enter their dens at some point, some can remain active for parts or the entire winter season if food is available. It is important that you clear spilled seeds from the ground when feeding them during the winter and remove bird feeders at the first sign of bear activity. If you live in an area with bears, it is best to avoid bird feeders altogether.
- Store trash in secure, airtight containers within a garage or storage area. Adding ammonia to cans and bags will reduce odors that attract bears. Clean trash cans periodically with ammonia to reduce residual odors. Litter collected outside the home should be placed on the morning of the day of collection and not the night before.
- Don’t store leftover bird seed, suet cake, or recyclable items in a covered porch or sunroom where bears can sniff out these items and will tear off screens to get to them.
- Keep barbecue grills clean. Store grills inside a garage or shed.
- Monitor dogs at all times when you are outside. Keep dogs on a short leash when walking and hiking. A wandering dog may be seen as a threat to the bear or its cubs. (Dogs are required to be on a leash when visiting state parks, state forests, and wildlife management areas. Check dog and leash regulations for city properties, land trusts, and other public properties before heading into those areas.)
- Do not leave pet food outside or feed pets outside.
- Use electric fence to protect beehives, agricultural crops, berry bushes, chickens and other livestock.
- Avoid putting scraps of meat or sweet foods, such as fruit and fruit peels, in compost piles.
In the rare case when a bear appears aggressive towards people, residents should immediately call the 24-hour DEEP dispatch line at 860-424-3333, DEEP officials said.
Officials said the bear sightings reported by the public provide “valuable” information to help DEEP monitor changes in black bear populations. Anyone spotting a black bear in Connecticut should report their sighting at https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Wildlife/Report-a-Wildlife-Sighting or call DEEP’s Department of Wildlife at 860-424-3011. Officials said that information on the presence or absence of ear tags, including tag color and numbers, is particularly valuable.
“There is a common misconception that a tagged bear is a problem bear, and that a bear with two ear tags was caught on two different occasions because it was causing problems. In fact, every bear receives two ear tags (one in each ear) the first time,” DEEP officials said. The tagged bears were not captured as problem bears, but as part of a project researching the state’s population.”