Patricia Randolph’s Madravenspeak: Wisconsin’s bear hunt is overkill as species face annihilation

  •  4 min to read
“Frankly, I thought we would be a little more evolved as a species by now.” — Jim Robertson, author of “Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying Sport”

In a Sept. 16 “Democracy Now” segment, Amy Goodman highlighted the Trump administration’s continuing assault on our public lands, opening the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWAR) to drilling leases: “The plan calls for the creation of landing strips, drill pads, pipeline supports, a seawater treatment plant, 175 miles of roads and other infrastructure in Alaska’s north coast.”

Goodman’s guest, Subhankar Banerjee, a professor of art and ecology at thee University of New Mexico, referenced the United Nations’ frightening report on the annihilation of species on earth: “…as I see it, (it) is a bigger crisis than the climate crisis, that is unfolding before us — the media has miserably failed to inform the public — which is the crisis of extinction … the scientists call it ‘biological annihilation.’ Earlier this year, the United Nations IPBES released what is considered, for some of us, the grimmest warning of human history, that 1 million species on Earth, which is about more than 50% of the documented species on the planet, face extinction, many within decades … since 1970, globally, monitored populations of vertebrates, which includes birds, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, have declined, on average, in population 60%.”

The bear hunt continues into its third week of five, Sept. 4-Oct. 8. Most of the 3,835 bears (plus agricultural tags) have been killed either by the dogs, or the men, women and children who enjoy killing bears. At $49 per bear, it is a cheaper rug than from Walmart. It is likely to be a small rug since most of the bears killed are less than a year-and-a-half old, but there is that thrill, adrenaline rush, selfie with the carcass and trophy to take home. Little bear cubs hide in a tree watching their mother be killed. The mother bear may return from running killers away from her cubs to find her cubs killed or disappeared. Little bear orphans need their mothers to teach them how to den and need mother bear’s warmth in the first winter during the human-caused dip of polar vortexes.

The bear kill is a more than $1 million dollar business for the DNR’s recruitment and retention of more wildlife killers in hunting courses across our school systems and state. But if we had a democratic structure for governing our wildlife, each of the 5.7 million citizens of Wisconsin could throw in 50 cents each and come up with over $2.5 million to save our bears and wildlife killed in traps.

Structural revolution to democratic funding will not happen under Republican cruel rule. It has not been a priority for either party. It will require public awareness and intensive pressure, urgently needed and sadly lacking.

To add to the mayhem in the woods, out of sight, the bow hunting season on deer started Sept. 14. The nine-day “traditional” deer kill was an endurance test for those of us who live with wildlife in rural areas. Now archery and crossbow killing persist through Jan. 5, 2020. Extended bow hunting seasons continue in 22 counties through Jan. 31.

Overkill is an understatement.

Wisconsin legislators and the DNR promote unregistered, unlimited bear baiting and bear hounding in our public lands July 1-Aug. 31 continuing now throughout the five-week kill.

According to Wolf Patrol, which monitors the bear hounding: “In Wisconsin, 95% of legally killed black bears are taken with the aid of bait and/or dogs. An estimated 4 million gallons of bait and 15,000 bear hounds are dumped annually in Wisconsin to attract and chase bears. And it’s not just baiting that is allowed, but as many baits as a hunter wants to use, all with no requirement for any hunting license or registration, preventing conservation officers from assuring that bear baits in our national forests are in compliance with even the minimal requirements.”

Killers from other states, or in-state, do not have to be licensed to run packs of dogs — exhausting bears, running mothers away from cubs for hours or days — just when bears should be eating every day to put on weight for winter hibernation.

An Aug. 2017 Wisconsin Public Radio segment discussed that “new research shows bear bait makes up more than 40 percent of a black bear’s diet in northern Wisconsin, and bait could be playing a role in the high density of bears up north, researchers say.” Attempts to ban chocolate in bait, which has killed bears in neighboring states, were defeated by hunters at the annual DNR election and vote in April.

The Wolf Patrol is clamoring for restraint, having reported many non-compliant bait piles and hunters with not six dogs, but 30 dogs in 10 trucks, running bears day and night in unlimited abuse:

“It’s time for Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest officials to bring an end to bear baiting and hound training in Wisconsin, where it’s (wreaking) havoc on wildlife and causing conflicts with wolves and other forest users. Nowhere else in the country are bear hunters allowed to dump as much bear bait as they desire, and chase the bears it attracts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Action Alert:

Please send the links to Madravenspeak bear columns to Gov. Evers and tell him that it is time for a first-time democracy in funding and fair, proportionate non-hunter participation in decisions to protect our wildlife.

Silence and inaction are complicity in this cruelty.

Over 650,000 citizens have signed a petition against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. You can sign here:

Attend the world premiere of “Anthropocene: The Human Epoch,” sponsored by the Nelson Institute. from 7-9 p.m. on Sept. 25 at the Marquee Theater in Union South on the UW-Madison campus.

Bear activists: Using snare trap for research is cruel

WEST MILFORD — Several bear activists are condemning the state Department of Fish and Wildlife for their use of snare traps to capture bears for research purposes after a West Milford resident, on her evening bike ride, found a bear cub screaming and tugging after it had been captured.

“It was horrifying; it’s just torture,” said Shari McAtee, who was riding her bike around 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, when she heard a loud noise. She investigated and about a half mile into the woods on Schoolhouse Road she found the cub, which she estimated weighed about 40 pounds. McAtee video recorded the distressed bear on her cell phone, showing it pulling on the cable attached to its leg that had been tied about three feet away on a nearby tree.

“I had no idea what was going on. We are near Clinton Road, so I was thinking maybe this was some sort of horrible joke or worship of some sort,” McAtee said.

McAtee said she called 911 and a few friends who are fellow bear activists.

Her friends and two West Milford police officers arrived along with a security guard with Newark’s Pequannock Watershed area, which encompasses portions of Morris, Passaic and Sussex counties. The police officers removed the restrained bear from the tree, McAtee said, but the cable remained on the bear’s leg.

McAtee said everyone dispersed after the bear was released from the tree — still with the cable attached to its leg — but on Monday morning around 8 a.m., she returned to the site and found the cub caught in some brush and crying.

Around 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 9, she saw DEP staff come out to the scene, tranquilize the bear and release the trap from its leg, McAtee said.

Caryn Shinske, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Environmental Protection, said via email that the department was notified the bear had been released so DEP staff went to the site, tracked the bear and captured it. They removed the cable, tagged the bear and released it unharmed, she said.

The division, she said, is “investigating” the bear’s release from the restraint but she did not go into further detail.

Shinske told the New Jersey Herald that Division of Fish and Wildlife staff check traps at least once every 24 hours, but may check sooner if a report comes in of an animal capture.

But McAtee believes keeping a bear tied up for 24 hours, or what she thinks may be more, is torture.

“What if someone tied your leg to a tree and you tried moving back and forth and had no idea what was going on with no food and water?” McAtee said.

The Aldrich foot snare is the main method used by the state for trapping and tagging bears, about 150 to 200 in a given year, Larry Herrighty, director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife, told the New Jersey Herald last year. The device, which consists of a spring-activated foot snare, is typically placed in a hole and covered with leaves and then fastened to a steel cable, which usually is attached to a nearby tree to hold it in place.

McAtee said the trapped cub’s mother was nearby on Sunday, along with another young bear, both of whom were “pacing around,”

While Herrighty told the New Jersey Herald in the interview last year that snares are always accompanied by signage to warn would-be hikers or passers-by of the trap, McAtee claims she did not see one.

″(The Division) is torturing these bears, trapping them and leaving them there,” she said, adding that if the division puts out snares, they should be watching them at all times and be right there when a bear is caught.

While she doesn’t believe New Jersey “has the population to hunt bears,” she does think there could be better alternatives to control the bear population, such as contraceptives.

In a statement released Thursday, the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, a self-described grassroots coalition of outdoorsmen, condemned the actions of McAtee and her fellow bear activists, including Angi Metler, who is the director of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, for “interfering” with the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s research.

“This is a great example of how violent anti-hunting extremist organizations interfere with valid and badly-needed scientific research,” said NJOA spokesman Cody McLaughlin, “On the one hand, extremists harass Division Of Fish and Wildlife scientists while performing their essential research and promote a ban on traps that assist the division in such research.”

The state, in addition to testing the bears for ticks and various other diseases, uses the ratio of tagged bears taken during the annual hunt as a gauge of hunter success rates and to guide its ongoing bear management programs.

McAtee, however, says there is “no justifiable science basis to study bears for the purpose of hunting.”

Humans, not glaciers, likely doomed Ice Age cave bears

Analysis of genetic material from dozens of prehistoric bears shows that their decline neatly matches the arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe.

Neanderthals lived in Europe for thousands of centuries, and during that time, they had to watch their step. Mammoths, woolly rhinos, and saber-tooth cats were common in the region, and the caves these human relatives would sometimes enter for shelter were often already occupied by cave bears, the heaviest adults of which may have weighed over 2,000 pounds.

Today, controversy swirls around the question of why all these large animals eventually disappeared. Some scientists think they were victims of the last glacial maximum, which peaked around 26,500 years ago. Other experts have argued that the appearance of a new human species with a knack for hunting, Homo sapiens, could have driven the unfortunate beasts to extinction.

Now, research presented in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that in the case of cave bears, humans most likely played a crucial role.

“If not for our arrival in Europe, I don’t see any reason why cave bears should not be around today,” says study coauthor Hervé Bocherens, a paleobiologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany who has studied cave bear remains for 30 years.

In some ways, the result may foreshadow the situation of today’s brown bear, which currently has a stable population but may soon be at risk due to conflicts with humans in an increasingly crowded and warming world. (Find out why living brown bears retain traces of cave bear DNA.)

Clan of the cave bear

Bocherens and a team of researchers led by Verena Schuenemann at the University of Zürich in Switzerland collected the remains of 59 cave bears found across Europe to extract what’s known as mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA. These small bits of genetic material are only inherited from an animal’s mother and can reveal genetic relationships between animals found at different locations. Crucially, however, mtDNA can also provide clues to past population sizes.

“Models of the genetics of populations tell us that the more diverse the mtDNA found in fossils from the same period, the larger the population must have been, allowing us to estimate the number of bears at any point in time,” Bocherens says.

GENETICS 101What is a genome, and how are traits passed from generation to generation? Learn how pea plants helped launch the study of genetics and how the field of genetics research has evolved over time.

When the scientists ran their analysis, the data suggested that the cave bear decline started some 40,000 years ago—long before the last ice age set in. This also means that cave bears thrived throughout a number of earlier periods when temperatures significantly decreased. Instead, their downward trend starts right about the same time that our species began to spread across Europe.

“There is some evidence suggesting some modern humans may have set foot in Europe even earlier,” Bocherens says. “But as far as we know, they only really populated the continent around the time the cave bears start declining.”

Though Neanderthals were probably killing cave bears as well, modern humans may have used more advanced hunting techniques and were probably more likely to venture into caves, Bocherens argues. Soon, anatomically modern humans became much more numerous than Neanderthals had ever been, sealing the cave bear’s fate.

The work “represents the maximum amount of information we can get from mtDNA data,” says Michael Knapp, a paleobiologist now based at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Knapp was not involved in the present study, but he published an earlier paper based on a more limited dataset that found similar results.

Bear necessities

Humans may have killed cave bears not just for their meat, but also for their fur or even simply because they were perceived as a threat. And as more humans settled in Europe, cave bears may have had a harder time moving into milder climates when it became cold, or finding the abundant plant foods required to sustain their large bodies. Remnant populations survived only in remote corners of Europe, such as the Italian Alps, where the most recent remains appear to be about 24,000 years old.

“Yet as these populations grew more and more isolated, they became genetically impoverished, as it was increasingly difficult for animals to travel between populations to find a mate,” Bocherens says. This may have weakened their offspring and could have made the bears more vulnerable to disease.

Meanwhile, brown bears survived into the modern era, perhaps because they were smaller and had more flexible diets that included meat they probably scavenged from large predators. Still, the decline of the cave bears carries a warning for brown bears, Bocherens says.

“First of all,” he says, “it shows that the most isolated populations are at risk, and that we should do whatever we can to allow some exchange of individuals between them, even if that means moving animals around ourselves.”

Perhaps even more importantly, he adds, the climate is again changing drastically, this time due to the actions of Homo sapiens, and that meansit is not enough to have nature reserves where the animals are left alone. In a world increasingly cluttered with roads, railways, fences, and buildings, we must also preserve the bears’ ability to travel around and keep their populations healthy and diverse.

“Species may survive a changing climate if they can track the changing temperatures,” Bocherens says. “But as the example of the cave bear shows us, climate change can be a very big problem if you cannot move.”

Trump Wants to Make Alaska’s Protected Wilderness a Hunting Ground

A video featuring a father and son slaughtering a mother black bear and then her two screaming newborn cubs in their den has ricocheted around the world, drawing obvious comparisons to the killing of Cecil, the African lion, by a Minnesota dentist several years ago.

Sadly, the shocking brutality the two men displayed for the world to see could soon be sanctioned by this administration. The Department of the Interior proposes to make legal these and other venal trophy-hunting practices on more federal public lands in Alaska. In 2017, Congress and the president overturned a 2016 rule governing 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuge System lands, and effectively prohibited the trophy hunting of hibernating black bears.

This administration has shown a penchant for supplicating itself to trophy hunters and trappers. At a time when most Americans regard trophy hunting with revulsion, the Trump administration plans to overturn two federal rules prohibiting the most deplorable trophy hunting and trapping practices ever carried out on federal lands in Alaska.

Also at risk is a 2016 rule concerning the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge that prohibited the hunting of brown bears over bait and the discharge of weapons within one-quarter mile of heavily used recreational areas, including campgrounds, trailheads and rivers. This rule also prohibited trophy hunting and trapping in high-use public zones in the Kenai refuge.

A wildlife camera captures Andrew Renner and his son, Owen, illegally killing a mother bear and her cubs in Alaska. The camera, originally set up as part of a wildlife study, also documents them tampering with evidence two days later.
A wildlife camera captures Andrew Renner and his son, Owen, illegally killing a mother bear and her cubs in Alaska. The camera, originally set up as part of a wildlife study, also documents them tampering with evidence two days later.

Another element of the mess at issue is that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game works under the auspices of Intensive Management, a paradigm that privileges hunting interests over wildlife conservation. Intensive Management permits the wholesale slaughter of wolves and bears in the mistaken belief that killing lots of these native carnivores will increase game herds for humans. That approach has utterly failed, however, most importantly because the Arctic’s fragile ecosystems cannot support unlimited numbers of herbivores. The result is a management strategy that has decimated Alaska’s native carnivore communities and encouraged an increase in the animal species most likely to cause harm to the landscape and environment.

When will it all end? Trophy hunters and trappers have killed wolves in Denali National Park and Preserve and along its boundaries in such numbers that tourists have all but lost their chance to witness wolves, including the famous and storied East Fork (Toklat) Pack, studied and admired since the 1930s.

The same is true for grizzly bears. Because of Intensive Management, Alaska’s great bears are now in great jeopardy. The state’s sanction of extreme hunting practices threatens to shrink native carnivore populations, to the dismay of biologists who study these majestic animals and to the great loss of all Americans who care about them. Such trophy hunting and predator-control practices should not be allowed on federal lands anywhere, and especially not in our national preserves and refuges in Alaska.

As of the previous census, wildlife-watching is a $2 billion-a-yearindustry in Alaska that contributes far more to local economies than trophy hunting and trapping ever could. Alaska’s wildlife-watching tourism outperforms the funds generated in the state from all hunting activities (and the extreme methods at issue here account for only a tiny fraction of that amount).

Wolves, black bears and grizzly bears represent an extraordinary lure for tourists, and they will continue to compel the interest of all Americans for decades. If their populations are hindered on these public lands, local economies could falter. But more importantly, we will all suffer the loss that their death and disappearance from our wild spaces entails.

Our national parks, preserves and wildlife refuges were founded “to conserve species and habitats in their natural diversity … for the benefit of present and future generations.” Overturning these rules and catering to trophy hunters moves us backward. That’s the wrong direction, and we shouldn’t let it happen.

Sign a petition urging Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt to oppose the rule that would overturn the 2015 National Park Service rule currently protecting iconic wildlife from trophy hunters and trappers on federal U.S. lands.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

B.C. guide outfitter fined $25K for bear baiting

James Wiens caught baiting black bear during undercover operation by B.C. Conservation Officer Service

The B.C. Conservation Officer Service says it may try to revoke the guide outfitter’s licence after he was fined for baiting bears. (Jenni Sheppard)


The B.C. Conservation Officer Service hopes a hefty fine issued to a guide outfitter will deter others from bear baiting.

Oliver, B.C., outfitter James Wiens was ordered to pay nearly $25,000 on Monday after he was caught baiting a black bear during an undercover operation by the service.

Two U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers posed as American hunting tourists and signed up for a hunt guided by Wiens, who local authorities suspected was baiting bears.

“Baiting black bears is illegal in British Columbia,” said Det. Sgt. Steve Jacobi.

“He was doing that actively from the time the guys arrived basically. Using grease and using dog food.”

Wiens was fined $24,800 for committing three offences under B.C.’s Wildlife Act.

Jacobi says this is the first time a guide has been convicted of offences like these.

“The public doesn’t want this and the conservation officer service will investigate violations and we will use all tools that we have at our disposal to try to stop the activity,” he said.

Wiens still has his guide outfitting licence.

Jacobi says the province is looking into possibly revoking it.

With files from Brady Strachan

Groups Intend to Sue Over New Wyoming Grizzly Hunt Law

Groups file notice of intent to sue over a new Wyoming law that could authorize grizzly bear hunting even though grizzlies are federally protected.

Feb. 20, 2019, at 5:56 p.m.

CHEYENNE, WYO. (AP) — Environmental groups have filed notice they intend to sue over a new Wyoming law that could authorize grizzly bear hunting even though grizzlies are federally protected.

The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates and Western Watersheds Project sent the notice Wednesday to Wyoming officials including the director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Wyoming and Idaho were preparing to hold grizzly bear hunts in 2018 when a federal judge in Montana ruled the bears needed re-listing as a threatened species.

On Friday, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed a bill that would allow the state Game and Fish Commission to plan a grizzly bear hunt, anyway.

The groups say Wyoming lacks authority to hold a grizzly hunt. Wyoming officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Losing my lust for hunting, thanks to The Bear

Recently, I watched a rather delightful film called The Bear. I’d not heard of it before until a friend told me how it was a childhood favourite of his. (His film taste is usually worth listening to.) Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud of Seven Years in Tibet and The Name of the Rose fame, The Bear isn’t like most other animal-themed films. It’s far more nuanced than it first appears to be. A live action tale (with a mixture of animatronic bears and real ones), it follows the story of an orphaned bear cub in late 19th century British Columbia, as he tries to survive, pitting himself against nature and some rather determined hunters.

It’s utterly charming and makes me smile just thinking about it, but it’s also quite nasty in places. Hunting dogs are used (and yes, a dog versus a bear doesn’t go brilliantly), bearskins are everywhere, and you even see two bears have sex in the distance. That kind of stuff never happened in The Lion King. You see hunters torment animals and, just when you think the human threat is gone, a cougar comes along to remind you that nature itself can be very cruel too. However, it’s beautifully shot and the bear cub is adorable, if clearly soon to be quite a threatening beast once he grows up. The film uses very little dialogue and hardly any music. Yet you hardly notice any of that because the film is so elegantly put together. The exposition is there for you to see rather than hear.

What has this got to do with games? Well, the day after I watched The Bear, I went to load up Red Dead Redemption 2 for a bit, and soon felt rather terrible. I needed to go hunting – to shoot at a bear or two and skin them. Suddenly it felt a little bit too real, as daft as that may sound. Sure, I’ve killed what must be hundreds of thousands of ‘people’ in games by now but the more I think about it, the more I’ve realised I feel quite uncomfortable about killing an animal in a game. Which is utterly irrational, I know.


Many quests and locations in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey involve killing animals. Wandering into their caves and killing them while they sleep for the sake of a pelt and a few extra experience points. How would I feel about that post-The Bear? I remember feeling terrible a few days back when I was playing World of Warcraft. I was in the woodland-ish zone of Darkshore and had to kill bears for some pelts. Just as I’d downed one adult bear, a small bear cub came bounding over and stood next to his deceased mother looking a bit lost. Thoughts of The Bear and his little face as he was orphaned come flooding back, and I don’t care how much of a snowflake it makes me sound.

It’s a weird idea that I’m fine killing virtual people but not animals, so I thought I’d search around to figure out why I and other people are like this. Looks like it’s a mixture of two things. Supposedly, there’s a concept known as ‘collapse of compassion’. Essentially, this means that the more deaths that occur in one incident, the less we seem to care. You’ll notice this happening in the news a lot (albeit not exclusively). One person dies in a freak car accident? Ohh, the horrors as we learn all about where they were driving to and how much family they had. 30 people die in a landslide? It’s too much, somehow, to get your head around in quite the same way. Names and details matter a lot in this, which I guess is why naming animals generally has an effect on our affection for them.


There’s also the matter that we innately think of animals as innocent or helpless. This isn’t actually always the case. A 9 foot tall Kodiak bear like Bart who features in The Bear is far from helpless when faced against scrawny little me, but it would be different if I had a large rifle and knew how to use it. He is pretty innocent though, merely trying to go about his business. That business in The Bear happens to be helping a bear cub get around in the world, with an occasional pitstop to woo a female bear by tearing a sapling out of the ground to impress her. Who could begrudge him such pleasures? Well, hunters.

Realising I’d lost my fairly limited bloodlust for hunting in games, I thought a nice gentle game of Never Alone might be better for me. Just me – a little Iñupiaq girl – and her arctic fox companion as we traipse through the Alaskan landscape together. No suffering or killing. Oh, except for when I screw up and my fox friend falls to his death. Or I flee from a polar bear and the bear falls into icy water to his inevitable demise. On second thoughts, maybe I just need to stick with match-three games and FIFA.

End the Nevada bear trophy hunt!

CompassionWorks International

DEC 26, 2018 —

The battle for Nevada’s bears continues!

On January 12th, 2019 from 11am to 1pm, we will gather at the Reno Convention Center to protest the killing of animals by trophy hunters. This year, Safari Club International, an evil group of trophy hunters, will hold their annual convention in Reno, and we will greet them with our protest. To get involved, please click this link.

During the convention, and for two months afterward, we will post a billboard in Reno with an image of a black bear and the words “Not Your Trophy”. The billboard will be installed on January 7th.

We would like to continue with a third month of the billboard and to move it to the Carson City area to remind Nevada legislators, who will then be in session, that the majority of Nevadans oppose trophy hunting and the senseless killing of our local wildlife. We have most of the money we need for the third month; however we are short approximately $450. Click this link to contribute toward the billboard. (Please note “bear billboard” in a comment on your donation.)

With changes in the Nevada government, and increased interest

2 bear-hunt opponents ticketed after bear freed from trap 

Originally published October 30, 2018 at 3:45 am Updated October 30, 2018 at
7:08 am


<> The Associated

The Associated Press

VERNON, N.J. (AP) – State officials have ticketed two bear hunt opponents
with freeing a young bear from a trap in New Jersey.

The BEAR Group released a short video on its Facebook page on which it says
a cub can be heard crying out for its mother.

The group’s lawyer, Doris Lin, tells The Star-Ledger of Newark the pair were
documenting what was happening, as was a third person who was not charged.
Lin would not comment on whether they were involved in the rescue.

The state placed two culvert traps at a condominium complex in Vernon after
two residents reported being charged at by a bear two weeks ago. The state
says the freed bear was younger and is not believed to have been involved in
that incident.


Information from: The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger,

The Associated Press

An Increase In the Bear Population Has Led to Calls for Legal Hunts. But Is That Really Safer?

I saw my first bear this summer. I was working from home in New Fairfield, a small town on the New York border in northern Fairfield County, when my normally quiet, 34-pound labradoodle retriever transformed into full beast mode. She flung her paws against the window, accenting furious barks with deep, guttural growls, unlike any sound I’d heard her make before.

Walking onto my front porch, I saw a large black bear, lazily picking through the spoils of my garbage can, which he — I learned later this bear was probably male — had previously knocked over and opened.

I moved back into the house, flinging the door shut behind me. A moment later, prompted by my wife — whose motives I’m only now beginning to suspect — I ventured out again, to do what so many of us do when we encounter one of the Northeast’s most powerful predators: take a photo. As my camera clicked, the bear looked up from his food. Our eyes met.

2018 might be the year of the bear in Connecticut. Bear numbers swelled to about 800, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, a population size not seen here in more than 150 years. Reported bear incidents also reached all-time highs, with more than 7,850 sightings reported to DEEP between October 2017 and September of this year.

In August, a bear walked through the automatic doors of a Bristol liquor store, and by October there were at least 25 reported instances of bears entering Connecticut homes this year. That is nearly twice the 2017 full-year total of 13 bear home entries, and far more than the yearly average of about six.

Bears have been seen in about 140 of Connecticut’s 169 towns and cities. They are found in greatest numbers in Litchfield County, western Hartford County and the northern portions of both Fairfield and New Haven counties. However, they are moving south in Fairfield and New Haven counties, and have been spotted more frequently east of the Connecticut River, though there are no permanent bear establishments there as of yet. DEEP estimates Connecticut can support about 3,000 bears.

“As the population continues to grow and expand you will see them push into new territory,” says Chris Collibee, DEEP spokesman.

You will also likely see new proposals to legalize the limited hunting of bears, which is currently illegal in the state. “We’re the only state in New England without a bear hunt,” Collibee says.

Earlier this year, DEEP supported legislative efforts to allow for a limited bear hunt in Litchfield County. The proposal was voted down by the Legislature’s Environment Committee 21-8. As with similar proposals in the past, it met with fierce resistance from animal rights and environmental groups including the Connecticut chapter of the Sierra Club and Darien-based Friends of Animals, whose members point to statistics showing many more people die from hunting accidents than from bear attacks.


UCONN wildlife expert Dr. Tracy Rittenhouse with an adult bear under study, briefly tranquilized by state DEEP staff while a GPS collar was changed before the bear and family were returned to the wild.jpg

UConn wildlife expert Tracy Rittenhouse with an adult bear under study. The bear was briefly tranquilized by state DEEP staff while a GPS collar was changed before the bear and its family were returned to the wild.

In testimony submitted in March, DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee said, “It is the opinion of our wildlife biologists that bear hunting — with prudent limitations — is consistent with best practices for wildlife management in Connecticut.”

With a new governor scheduled to take office, it is unclear what the state’s position on bear hunts will be going forward, but representatives of groups on both sides of the issue have stances that remain unchanged.

The Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, a state advocacy organization dedicated to protecting hunting and fishing rights as well as gun rights, has also lobbied the legislature in support of a bear hunt. Bob Crook, executive director of the organization, says that it is expensive for DEEP to deal with problem bears by catching or euthanizing them. “A better, more effective way of getting the population down is to allow hunting,” he says, noting there is interest in hunting bears from Connecticut hunters who would eat the meat and have the hide and fur tanned.

“Maybe somebody has to be killed by one of these bears before we take anything seriously,” he says.

Fran Silverman, communications director of Friends of Animals, which supports a vegan lifestyle, disagrees with Crook’s assessment of the risk. She says a bear hunt is more of a threat than that posed by bears, as hunting accidents are far more common than bear attacks. “In Connecticut, between 2011 and 2016, there’s been 13 accidents and one hunting fatality, and zero bear fatalities,” she says. Silverman adds that from 1982, around when bears first returned to Connecticut, up until 2016 there were 114 hunting accidents and 13 fatalities, while no one was killed by bears over the same time period.

Though there are attacks on livestock and pets each year in Connecticut, bear attacks on humans are exceedingly rare. In 2017, a bear was euthanized after swiping at a woman walking her dog in a Simsbury park, but Collibee from DEEP says, “We’ve never had an overly significant incident of a bear attacking a human, at least in recent memory.”

The bear population in Connecticut was nonexistent by the mid-1800s thanks to aggressive hunting and widespread deforestation to make room for farmland. Black bears survived in western Massachusetts, and after forests returned to much of Connecticut, they began traveling back in the 1980s. Males range from 150 to 450 pounds, and though they are not classified as true hibernators, their body temperature is lowered and heart rate slows during denning periods, generally between late November and mid-March in Connecticut. They commonly den under fallen trees or in brush piles, but varied sites are used including rocky ledges. While denning, they don’t eat, defecate or urinate, but will usually wake up when disturbed. Though bears are more active between March and November, Collibee says, “it is not unusual to see the occasional bear during the winter months.”

Bears have an excellent sense of smell and will seek out garbage and other food left outside. Though generally shy, and fearful of humans, according to DEEP’s fact sheet, “if they regularly find food near houses and areas of human activity, they can lose their fear of humans.”

Bear-hunt proponents believe a hunt would help instill a healthy fear of humans in more bears. Tracy Rittenhouse, a professor of wildlife ecology in UConn’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, says, “The scientific literature provides good evidence for other wildlife species changing their behavior in response to hunting,” but adds, “I think the evidence in the scientific literature specific to black bears just hasn’t been collected.”

In 2017, Rittenhouse published research showing that the largest bear populations in Connecticut were found on the fringes of suburban areas, rather than in rural areas. These “exurban areas” have woodlands as well as scattered houses, offering bears garbage- and bird feeder-foraging opportunities. More recently, Rittenhouse and colleagues looked at how bears living in low-density neighborhoods navigated through them. Analyzing data from GPS monitors on bear collars in currently unpublished research, they found that as bears travel across the state, on average, they avoid houses and roads, but “there are some [bears] that move through that neighborhood moving almost toward houses and toward roads.”

Rittenhouse says the behavior observed in both studies is most likely not behavior only exhibited by Connecticut bears.

“I’ve not seen anything here in Connecticut that’s completely different than bears in New York or Massachusetts,” says Rittenhouse, who will speak about the increased sightings of bears and other large mammals at an event of the Aspetuck Land Trust on Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Church in Westport. “I think what’s unique about Connecticut is that we have [a lot of neighborhoods with] this housing density that typifies exurban housing development. … What our research has shown is that it’s a housing density that bears really like, too.”


A black bear spotted in New Fairfield on July 21, 2018.

Encounters between homeowners and bears are becoming more common, especially around homes in wooded areas, as the bear population increases and spreads across the state. Our writer found this out firsthand when he discovered this bear going through his garbage. He has since learned to secure his trash to discourage foraging — and not to go outside to get a better picture of the bear.

The bear that visited my house and feasted on my garbage was huge. As cute as he looks in pictures, in real life he was terrifying. My wife hasn’t walked the dog at night since his appearance, and every time my dog barks, I go into high alert, scanning the perimeter of the lawn from my windows.

Even so, it would be heartbreaking to see this bear hunted and killed. While not everyone agrees with that sentiment, people on both sides of the bear hunt issue do agree that those of us who live in neighborhoods near bear populations need to take more steps to prevent encounters. These include keeping garbage in a shed or garage, not leaving bird feeders out from March till late November and storing grills inside. Bear sightings can be reported to DEEP through its website at Those requiring immediate assistance with a bear should call DEEP’s 24-hour hotline at 860-424-3333.

I’ve heard the saying that “a fed bear is a dead bear,” the notion that feeding a bear, whether intentionally or unintentionally, lures them into more interactions with humans and increases the odds they will end up being euthanized. I took the saying to heart, moving my garbage indoors and attempting to clean my property of anything that might tempt the bear in the future. Bears frequently return to places where they’ve found food in the past, and a few weeks after my initial meeting, my dog once more sprung into beast mode. This time I knew the signs. Looking out the window, I watched as the bear walked down my driveway and past where the garbage used to be. Finding nothing, he kept walking instead of hanging out again. Thankfully, I haven’t seen him since.