As Bears Get More Aggressive, Divide On How To Handle Them

SALISBURY, Conn. (AP) — A debate on what to do about the growing number of bears in Connecticut is continuing, as residents report more sightings and more aggressive behavior from the bruins.

Though there haven’t been any reported fatal bear attacks in the state, residents in northwestern Connecticut told The Republican-American they are seeing more of the bears than ever before.

Rob Keller told the newspaper he's lived in Salisbury, in the northwest corner of the state, for 30 years but has only seen bears in the last year and a half. Last month, Keller awoke to find a bear in his house, 10 feet from the couch he was sleeping on. Neighbors shared similar stories.

Previous attempts to pass legislation that would allow a limited bear hunt have failed, and recently a bill that would have allowed farmers to hunt bears that destroy their crops or livestock didn’t get out of committee.

Opponents of a bear hunt favor nonlethal controls such as education about not leaving food out and aversive conditioning with paintball and rubber bullets. They also recommend electric fencing to keep bears from livestock and bees.

In Cornwall, farmer Buddy Hurlburt said he loses thousands of dollars worth of corn in his fields every year due to encroaching bears.

“We’re saturated with bears," he told the newspaper. "You can’t put an electric fence around an 18-acre cornfield.”

The bear population in the state has surpassed 1,200, and there have been sightings in 156 of the state's 169 municipalities, the Republican-American reported. Currently, a bear can only be taken if it is caught in the act of killing livestock. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection supports hunting as part of a comprehensive approach, the newspaper reported.