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    Local News
    Sunday, May 19, 2024

    Bear sightings on the rise

    Security camera photos of a bear on the back porch of 45 Turner Road in the Oakdale section of Montville. (Photo submitted by Kathleen Turner)
    Security camera photos of a bear on the back porch of 45 Turner Road in the Oakdale section of Montville. (Photo submitted by Kathleen Turner)
    Security camera photos of a bear on the back porch of 45 Turner Road in the Oakdale section of Montville. (Photo submitted by Kathleen Turner)

    On Saturday night, Michael and Jessica Keltner said they heard a “big bang” at their Montville home.

    They thought it might be a tree branch.

    Jessica on Tuesday said she looked out the bedroom window and saw that an American black bear had knocked over three trash cans and was feasting on multigrain crackers.

    The Keltners’ sighting are among an increasing number being reported by southeastern Connecticut residents as bears leave hibernation in search of food to replace their depleted fat reserves.

    Jenny Dickson, wildlife director for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said that although southeastern Connecticut typically does not report as many bear encounters as the northeastern part of the state, she and other DEEP officials are urging residents to take steps to avoid attracting bears. This includes removing bird feeders, securing trash and cleaning grills.

    “The more we can keep them from human-sourced foods, we can avoid dangerous situations for people and the bears,” she said.

    According to DEEP’s map of reported bear sightings there have been 52 New London County sightings so far in 2024. The highest number is in Waterford, which has had 18. Dickson said the high number of sightings Waterford could be due to multiple residents reporting the same bears.

    On Monday, a few Montville residents said they encountered bears searching for food around their homes over the weekend.

    “We assumed it was the birthday cake and pizza boxes that had attracted it,” Michael Keltner said, adding that he grabbed a baseball bat and unsuccessfully tried to scare the bear away.

    It was there for 10 to 15 minutes before moseying off, he said. He and Jessica said it’s common for them to see raccoons and coyotes around their home in the rural Oakdale section of town but not black bears. This was their first bear sighting.

    Kathleen Turner, who lives a couple houses down, said she thinks the same bear visited her Saturday night and has been haunting her yard for at least a year. Turner cited three encounters, two in June and December of last year, at which time she had suet and sugar-water feeders in her yard.

    “It took down our bird feeders, so obviously, I don’t put those up anymore,” she said Monday, pointing to two mangled sheperds hooks that laid in a heap by the front of the house.

    In her most recent encounter, Turner said she heard “a couple of thuds, like something fell.” She lowered the volume on her television and turned to her husband and asked whether he had heard anything. He hadn’t.

    Looking out the window and not seeing anything, she checked the home’s five security cameras and sure enough, saw that a bear had climbed up 10 feet of stairs to her back deck.

    Turner, who has no garage, said since the incidents last year, she’s been in contact with a DEEP official who recommended she get a locker to keep her trash in and spray the trash down with ammonia.

    “He was probably looking for food because he found it here before,” she said, adding the grill on the deck hadn’t been used this year and was covered. “He might have been looking for the garbage.”

    Judd Perkins, who lives on Laurelwood Drive in Salem, said a couple of weeks ago a bear came through his yard, where he had seed bird feeders hanging on metal poles. He captured the bear on his home security cameras.

    “He bent the pole 90 degrees into the ground,” he said, adding that the feeders were flattened afterward.

    Perkins said others were posting about bears in his area on the town’s social media page.

    Bad behaviors, deadly results

    Dickson said last week that while many bears in southeastern Connecticut “haven’t gotten the chance to learn those bad behaviors yet,” she said leaving food out can teach them bad habits.

    “It’s a lot easier if you only have a few bears ― to keep them from learning these bad behaviors,” she added.

    Dickson said black bears searching for human-sourced food can lead them to cross streets where there is the potential for them to be hit by cars or be led into residents’ homes, at which point DEEP typically has to euthanize them.

    “We won’t want to have to euthanize a bear that followed their noses and got into trouble,” she said.

    “Unfortunately, those are bears that are now a danger, and will keep crossing the line to get food,” Dickson said. “Once a bear has gotten comfortable around people, and is exhibiting behavior bold enough to start breaking into (homes), we cannot unteach it that behavior.”

    Although tragic for bears, she said DEEP’s top priority is to keep residents safe.

    “We don’t like to do that,” DEEP spokesperson Paul Copleman said last week about euthanization. “We want to see a thriving population in the state.”

    The two said if residents follow DEEP recommendations about keeping bears away from their communities, bears and people can live in harmony, which is the best outcome for both.

    “We need everyone to do their part to live with black bears better,” Dickson added.

    The department’s advice to residents: Don’t feed bears, take down bird feeders by mid-March, store garbage in airtight containers inside an enclosed storage area, don’t leave recyclables on a porch, keep grills clean, supervise pets while outside, protect crops and livestock with electric fencing and avoid putting meat or sweet foods in compost piles.

    Dickson sympathized with those who don’t want to take feeders down, saying she normally likes to feed the birds too, but is willing to make the sacrifice to potentially save a bear’s life.

    “We’ve got to start thinking about things a little bit differently now,” she said.

    Instead of bird feeders, Dickson recommended residents landscape their yards with native plants and other “vegetation that attracts the birds you want to see.”

    d.drainville@theday.com

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