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    Thursday, July 18, 2024

    Bears found roaming two Conn. municipalities, prompting one school to 'lock-in'

    A pair of recent urban black bear sightings shocked residents and workers in Berlin and Hartford earlier this week, as warmer temperatures lead them out of hibernation and into backyards across the state.

    Towns like Newington, Simsbury and Canton have seen recent high-profile brushes with bears in the past few weeks, but members of the species seem to be turning up in less-expected places as the population continues to grow.

    Lone black bear marches through Hartford

    On Monday morning, employees at an office building on Capitol Avenue in Hartford saw a bear approach an entrance and walk through the parking lot.

    Hartford Public Schools spokesman Jesse Sugarman said later in the day, around 1 p.m., a bear found its way to the campus of Hartford Public High School on Forest Street, triggering a "lock-in."

    "All students and staff were kept inside until the bear left the premises, but the day was never really interrupted," Sugarman said.

    Sugarman said classes were not canceled or impeded as a result of the incident, and no students and staff were endangered by the bear's presence.

    Officials with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection believe a handful of Hartford bear sightings on Monday were connected to the same animal moving through the city.

    Jenny Dickson, director of the DEEP's wildlife division, said believes the bear managed to navigate through Hartford safely Monday.

    "There were a lot of sightings of what was likely the same bear," Dickson said. "What that would suggest to me is the bear was moving through various parts of the city."

    DEEP has tracked 18 bear sightings in Hartford so far this year, she said.

    "We know that's an underestimate," Dickson said. "For something as large as they are, it's amazing how quietly they can move through the landscape. A lot of the time, we don't know they're there."

    Tagged bear in Berlin tries for bird feeder

    Berlin resident Lucas Van Zandt was working on his computer on Sunday when all of a sudden his dog "went nuts." Thinking the dog saw a squirrel, he went to investigate and was shocked to see a large black bear on his property at 52 Skyview Drive.

    "He was really big. ... It was a little frightening," Van Zandt said.

    The bear went up to the bird feeders on the property and tried to get into them but failed, Van Zandt said. It then walked across the front of the house, down a hill, and crossed the street.

    Lucas said that though he started yelling at the bear as it crossed the street, the animal did not react much. He said he called the police, who told him they had been tracking the bear, which has tags in its ears.

    Van Zandt said that he has lived in the area for 20 years and he has never seen a bear in the neighborhood.

    "I've seen a coyote, turkey, deer, groundhogs, everything. But never, never a bear," Van Zandt said.

    In Berlin, DEEP has tracked 15 sightings so far this year.

    Will Healey, director of communications at DEEP, said Berlin has good habitat for black bears, as does its neighbor Southington, which has seen 108 sightings in 2024 thus far.

    Why bears are in CT cities

    Dickson said bears in urban environment are primarily looking for a path to move through or food sources like garbage or unattended pet food, and are unlikely to chase pedestrians. The larger concern is the potential obstruction of traffic that could lead to a car accident, she said.

    DEEP is often asked whether black bears are seen in urban areas because they were displaced by the development of towns and cities, Dickson said, but the state only started seeing a significant number of bears in the early 1990s.

    "A lot of our communities were built before bears moved back to our state," Dickson said. "It's because they're very adaptable."

    Healey said he hopes that residents can do their share to learn how to live with bears and dissuade them from entering backyards or garages.

    "In urban and suburban areas where people aren't used to having bears around, it's best to understand how to coexist with them," Healey said.

    Basic steps to help prevent issues with bears in residential areas include startling them with noises like car horns and making sure food garbage and bird feeders are not accessible.

    "Once the bear gets that reward for finding something ... it trains the bear to start viewing our backyards, our garages, our houses even, as sources of food," Dickson said.

    Dickson said reporting bear sightings can also help DEEP learn more about how the black bear population is dispersing throughout the state, and where female bears might be raising their cubs.

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