State bears love an easy meal; tips offered to avoid unintentional lures

The state's bear population is growing and bears are emerging from winter hibernation looking for food, so the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is offering tips on reducing the chances of contact and conflicts with bears.

The state's population is estimated at approximately 500 bears, increasing the need for people to know how to prevent problems. In 2011, DEEP received nearly 3,000 bear sighting reports from 122 of the state's 169 towns. This spring, the department already has received several reports of bears traveling through populated areas and coming into contact with humans and domestic animals.

When bears emerge from their winter dens, natural foods are scarce and, as a result, bears are often attracted to human-provided foods found near homes.

"Most conflicts occur when bears are attracted close to homes by food sources that are easy for them to access, such as bird seed, garbage, and residue on grills. This can lead to more serious problems, including habituated bears that have lost their fear of humans," Susan Frechette, DEEP Deputy Commissioner, said in a news release.

The two most common bear attractants are bird seed and poorly stored household garbage. Bird feeders should be taken down and put away during spring, summer and fall. Household garbage should be stored in closed garages or sheds. Ammonia also can be added to cans and bags to discourage animals. Pet and livestock foods, grease and drippings on barbecue grills, sweet or fatty food scraps in compost piles and fruit-bearing trees also attract bears.

DEEP encourages residents to take the following steps:

• Never feed bears.

• Take down, clean, and put away bird feeders and clean up spilled seed from the ground.

• Store garbage in secure, airtight containers inside a garage or storage area. Double bagging and adding ammonia to cans and bags will reduce odors that attract bears. Periodically clean garbage cans with ammonia. Garbage for pickup should be put outside the morning of collection and not the night before.

• Do not leave pet food outdoors at night.

• Keep barbecue grills clean. Store grills inside a garage or shed.

• Do not place meat scraps or sweet foods in compost piles.

• Protect beehives, livestock and berry bushes from bears with electric fencing.

• Supervise dogs when outside, and keep dogs on a leash when walking and hiking. A roaming dog might be perceived as a threat to a bear or its cubs.

• If you encounter a bear while hiking, make your presence known by yelling or making other loud noises. If a bear does not retreat, slowly leave the area.

Although black bears regularly travel near houses, they are rarely aggressive toward humans and usually can be frightened away by loud noises, throwing sticks or spraying with a garden hose. Bears that have found food such as bird seed around houses, however, can get in a habit and may ignore efforts to scare them away.

In those cases, residents should contact DEEP at (860) 675-8130 during the week or at (860) 424-3333 on weekends and after business hours.

Anyone who observes a black bear in Connecticut is encouraged to report the sighting on the DEEP's website, www.ct.gov/deep/wildlife or by calling the Wildlife Division's Sessions Woods office.

Some bears have been ear-tagged for research. Information on the presence or absence of tags, including tag color, letters and numbering, is particularly valuable.

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