Wildlife officials in Connecticut are warning residents against feeding bears, especially over the next few months as the animals step up their hunt for the extra food they need before hibernation.
According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), in the fall, bears race against the clock for up to 20 hours a day foraging for high-calorie nuts and seeds. This annual power hog marathon is called hyperphagia. During hyperphagia, bears must consume 20,000 calories per day, which is 10 times the calories they normally consume.
Your goal is to gain as much weight and insulating fat as possible before winter. But it’s dangerous for both bears and humans when humans make it easy for bears to find food.
“Black bears should never be fed – intentionally or unintentionally,” said Jenny Dickson, director of DEEP’s wildlife division. “Bears, lured into a home by readily available food, lose their fear of humans. Bears that are rewarded with simple meals spend more time in neighborhoods and around people, increasing risks to public safety, the likelihood of property damage, and the possibility that bears will be hit by vehicles and killed.”
The state has already seen a record number of bear break-ins into homes, with 69 incidents this year surpassing the previous record of 45 set in 2020.
Dickson adds that bears have to forage for hours every day to find 20,000 calories worth of nuts and berries. But just a bird feeder full of sunflower seeds or a trash can full of leftovers can reward a bear with a day’s calories for less than an hour’s work, making human-provided food even more enticing.
The bears face a special challenge this year. According to state agriculture experts, Connecticut experienced widespread acorn crop failure this season. Autumn acorns are an important food source for black bears, and the lack of acorns this year will cause bears to seek other food sources, including food associated with humans, adding to growing public concerns, officials say security related to their continued population growth.
Connecticut’s black bear population is estimated at more than 1,000, and bears can be found in any of the state’s 169 cities.
As the bear population continues to grow and bears become increasingly prey-related, officials fear conflicts with humans will continue to increase. This is a concern because bears that are food conditioned pose a greater risk to themselves and public safety, and often cause more property damage to homes, cars, pets, and livestock.
Two months before the end of the year, DEEP said it had already recorded a record number of bear break-ins into homes, with 69 incidents this year far surpassing the previous record of 45 set in 2020.
Recommended course of action
DEEP has several best practices for residents to reduce the chance of encountering a bear that are available online at DEEP’s Living with Black Bears website. DEEP has also created a video that includes many of these best practices.
Rule #1 is to make every home and yard a no-food zone for bears. The most important step is removing food attractants such as birdseed and unsecured litter.
Another tip is to supervise dogs outdoors at all times. Dogs should be kept on a short leash. A stray dog could be perceived as a threat to a bear or its cubs.
In the rare event that a bear appears to be aggressive toward humans, residents should immediately contact DEEP’s 24-hour emergency number at 860-424-3333.
Publicly reported bear sightings provide valuable information to assist DEEP in monitoring changes in the black bear population. Anyone who sees a black bear in Connecticut is encouraged to report the sighting on DEEP’s website or call the Wildlife Division at 860-424-3011. Information on the presence or absence of ear tags, including ear tag color and number, is particularly valuable.
Sources: DEEP and BearWise.
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