THOMASTON — As the sunny days roll ahead, black bear sightings have increased considerably in the past several weeks with many residents sharing their encounters with the animals online, sharing stories and posting pictures from all across the town. DEEP spokesperson Lee Sawyer told the Town Times that Thomaston has a relatively higher bear sighting track record overall in comparison to many other areas across the rest of the state.
With an estimated 800 to 1,000 bears statewide, the majority of which reside west of the Connecticut River, the black bear population in the northwest corner of Connecticut has consolidated regionally.
The statewide population exponentially rises each year by 10 percent, said Mr. Sawyer.
As a result, black bears have been moving into areas where they previously did not live, causing a surge of routine and sometimes even daily sightings by residents.
DEEP statistics indicate that from June 2018 to June 2019, there have been 136 reported bear sightings in Thomaston alone.
“Connecticut has reforested over the years,” Mr. Sawyer explained.
He further mentions that bears are moving back into the forestlands, budding populations within close proximity to areas populated by people.
Many of the bears who become accustomed to inhabiting shared spaces with humans become habituated to the environment, especially with the presence of outside garbage containers and trash as well as bird feeders hung in trees in the backyard.
Mr. Sawyer strongly urges residents to bring their trash inside and take down bird feeders during the spring and summer seasons to reduce the chances of bears wandering by their households.
However, solely removing exterior trash and bird seed from properties will not stave off bears, but merely reduce the attractions for black bears to appear in residential areas.
DEEP accumulates population indexes on the black bear species when residents report bear sightings and their whereabouts to the organization; there is an online form to report bear sightings through the DEEP website.
With the collected information, DEEP is able to maintain a history of bear sightings across the communities in Connecticut.
Although DEEP does not directly work in coordination with local law enforcement, Mr. Sawyer acknowledges the role that law enforcement entities assume when being called regarding bear sightings and the possible dangers imposed upon humans and livestock by the presence of a black bear.
However, DEEP hosts a 24-hour hotline service for residents who spot bears and require immediate assistance or recognize that it may be a potential safety concern for themselves or neighbors.
Those seeking immediate assistance are asked to call 860-424-3333 for the 24-hour hotline.
Mr. Sawyer shared the three types of specialized responses that DEEP responders may enact during bear sightings when DEEP is called onsite.
One most commonly enforced utilizes a “scaring the bear” tactic, executed by local professionals, who attempt to disrupt the bear’s current location and residence.
The second but rare outcome may result in euthanizing a bear, as happened recently in Burlington; and the third option consists of relocating the bear, but this process is least likely possible, especially for a small state like Connecticut.
Although bear sightings are prominent and many go unnoticed to DEEP, especially within this region of the state due to lack of reporting by residents, Mr. Sawyer emphasizes anyone who sees a bear to inform the local DEEP authorities, either online or by call, depending on the circumstances.
“Some people are concerned with reporting a bear,” Mr. Sawyer stated, especially if someone believes that DEEP may cause harm to a bear or any form of recourse as a result of reporting a bear sighting.
However, Mr. Sawyer clarified that the majority of bear sightings do not result in any negative recourse, rather the reporting is actually kept to acquire more information for DEEP and its fellow biologists to track, compile and learn more about the current status of the ever-expanding black bear population in Connecticut.