DEEP warns residents to continue to stay ‘bear aware’

Hartford – During the fall season, black bears increase their food intake to add reserves of fat needed to help them survive the winter. Foraging for more food makes bears very active and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is reminding residents of several 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. This 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: to gain weight and isolate fat as much as possible before turning to winter. Even bears that live in warmer climates in the south and go to their den later, or sometimes not at all, still overeat 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 20,000 calories worth of 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 on a regular basis 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—whether on purpose or not,” said Jenny Dixon, director of DEEP’s wildlife division. Bears who are attracted to homes by easily accessible foods lose their fear of humans. It’s important to remember to keep outdoor grills clean, litter secured, and indoors until collection day to avoid offering the bears a tempting snack. Bears rewarded with easy meals spend more time in neighborhoods and near people, which increases the risks to public safety, the potential for property damage, and the potential for bears to be injured and killed by vehicles. It is up to all of us to help prevent bears from learning bad behavior.”

DEEP has several best practices for residents to incorporate to reduce the likelihood of encountering a bear, and these are available online at DEEP’s “Living with Black Bears” website, Bears. DEEP has also created a video with many of these best practices, available here.

No-Bear-food-zone: If you encounter a bear while out in the yard or hiking, 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. If you’re in your garden, step into 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.

Anyone can be a good neighbor and take steps to reduce potential encounters and conflicts with bears. The most important step is to remove food attractants, such as bird seed and unsafe litter:

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 event when a bear appears aggressive towards people, residents should immediately call the 24-hour DEEP dispatch line at 860-424-3333.

Public-reported bear sightings provide valuable information to help DEEP monitor changes in black bear populations. Anyone spotting a black bear in Connecticut is encouraged to report the sighting on the DEEP website at or call the Department of Wildlife at 860- 424-3011 . Information on the presence or absence of ear tags, including tag color and numbers, is of particular value. A common misconception is that the tagged bear is a problem bear, and that the two-eared bear was caught on two different occasions because it was causing problems. In fact, each bear receives two ear tags (one in each ear) the first time biologists come into contact with DEEP. Most of the tagged bears were not captured as problem bears, but as part of a project researching the state’s population.

Part of this information was provided by BearWise®, a program created by bear biologists, and supported by state wildlife agencies.

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