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This story has been updated as of June 19 with additional information from DEEP
You do not need to be a football fan watching the team from Chicago or a parent reading the story of Goldilocks to see a bear around here anymore.
There have been multiple recent sightings of a black bear or bears in the area, including right in the center of town. A number of residents contacted The Newtown Bee after seeing a bear in central Newtown, on June 12.
“I was making dinner and just outside my window came this huge black bear who meandered over to our birdbath and took a drink and then walked up my neighbor’s driveway where he knocked over several garbage pails looking for food. We’re used to seeing deer occasionally, but this was our first bear sighting,” Judith Caracciolo, of Schoolhouse Road, wrote in an e-mail to The Newtown Bee the next day.
Boggs Hill Road resident Patty Graves also saw a bear on Tuesday.
“I was at the Matthew Curtiss House for a meeting,” she wrote. “The bear was just behind the gardens at the Matthew Curtiss House, checking out the bird feeders at the neighbor’s house, then the bear easily came over the fence into the Matthew Curtiss House yard compost. The bear poked around a bit and scooted out the back, off the property.
“The police were there, too, watching with us. They had been following the bear from sighting reports. Previously the bear had been down at Holy Cow Ice Cream shop for a cone,” Ms Graves joked.
Apparently bears have errands to run. The one seen on Main Street and Church Hill Road reportedly stopped at Citgo Gas Station at 47 Church Hill Road.
Ms Graves said friends of hers have seen what they believe to be another bear, because it has a different number on the tags, on Flat Swamp and Shut Roads.
Another resident stopped by the office of The Newtown Bee on June 13 to report he had observed the bear on Queen Street the previous evening.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) reports that bears are marked with color-coded tags, which correspond to the year in which the bear was found.
“A common misconception is that a tagged bear in Connecticut is a problem bear, and a bear with two ear tags was caught on two different occasions because it was causing problems. Actually, every bear receives two ear tags, one in each ear, the first time it is handled by DEEP, regardless of why it was tagged. Most tagged bears have not been caught as problem bears, but rather as part of a project to research the state’s bear population,” according to the DEEP website.
“Ear tags help biologists track bear movements and dispersal. Bears tagged in Connecticut have traveled as far as Vermont. Bears tagged in New York, Massachusetts, and even Pennsylvania have shown up in Connecticut. Ear tags can also help identify individual bears that have a repeated problem behavior,” according to the DEEP site.
Paul Rego, a wildlife biologist with the DEEP, said tagging bears has been a good indicator for showing growth in the bear population. Mr Rego said he anticipates about 7,000 sightings by the end of the year.
Photos submitted by Liia Raamot Mowery, of a bear on The Boulevard, show a yellow tag.
“It’s mostly likely a bear that we tagged in 2016,” said Mr Rego, adding that numbers on the tags, which are not visible in the photos, reveal more specific information.
Mr Rego said that rarely are bears aggressive. In fact, huffing sounds and “bluff charges” bears make when they are actually the ones that are scared, can be perceived — inaccurately — as aggression.
Bears do occasionally attack livestock and have been known to break into garages, sheds, and even houses when they smell food. Throughout the years, there have been minor injuries to humans but no deaths in Connecticut that Mr Rego recalls.
“I’m a little less afraid of seeing a bear now as this bear seemed to have no interest in us,” Ms Graves said.
Nevertheless, Animal Control Officer Carolee Mason and Assistant Animal Control Officer Matt Schaub warn residents to not get too close to or comfortable around bears.
“Leave it alone. Make a lot of noise, scare it. Do not go out and follow it with a camera and take a picture of it,” is Ms Mason’s advice for anybody who encounters a bear.
Remain Calm, Observe From A Distance
The advice for a bear encounter on the DEEP web page is as follows: “Remain calm and observe the bear from a distance. Do not approach or try to get closer to a bear. If the bear is unaware of your presence, back away or make noise, which will often cause the bear to flee. If the bear is aware of you and does not flee, talk to the bear in a calm voice and back away slowly. Never run or climb a tree. If the bear approaches, be offensive. Make more noise, wave your arms, and throw objects at the bear. Black bears rarely attack humans. However, if you are attacked, do not play dead. Fight back with anything available.”
“If a bear is seen in your town or neighborhood, leave it alone. In most situations, if left alone and given an avenue for escape, the bear will usually wander back into more secluded areas,” according to the DEEP website.
Mr Schaub added that residents should not leave bird feeders up during warmer months, because bears are even more attracted to seeds and granola than salmon.
“If you choose to put out bird feeders, do so in the winter months from December through late-March when bears are in their dens,” the DEEP site mentions.
A majority of time, animal control officials receive calls to residential properties that the wild animals have been drawn to because of garbage or bird feeders, Mr Schaub said.
“If your trash doesn’t have to be out until Thursday morning, put it out Thursday morning, not Tuesday night,” Mr Schaub advised.
Ms Mason said there is one particular bear that has been around for about the last decade and comes and goes, and that there are other bears that have appeared over time.
In recent years, animal control officials have received more and more calls and, when there is a bear around, can get a few calls in a period of a week when bears come out of a slumber and look for food in a general area for a while, Ms Mason said.
According to the DEEP, black bears are becoming increasingly common in Connecticut, and each year sightings are reported from approximately 140 of the state’s 169 towns. Over 6,000 sightings were reported in 2016. “Connecticut has a healthy and increasing bear population with the highest concentration in the northwest region of the state,” according to the DEEP.
“They’re around. There are more than there used to be,” said Mr Schaub, adding that there was a bear sighting in a pool at his residence in Southbury a few years ago. “A lot of animals are opportunistic feeders. When their resources are depleted they move on.”
Ms Mason and Mr Schaub said development is a factor in increased sightings of bears, especially in the spring.
“This is the wrong time to [build]. This is when wildlife is having its babies and we’re disrupting them,” Ms Mason said. “I know progress is progress, but, unfortunately, there’s so much building in Newtown right now.”
Mr Rego said reforestation is the cause of more bear sightings. Why not 40 or 20 years ago? Mr Rego explained that we are starting to see more bears due to maturation of forests and the slow reproduction process of bears, resulting from the fact female bears do not wander as far as males.
“The bear population is growing and the range of bears is expanding, and Newtown is one of the towns that is close to the front of expansion, the leading edge of expansion,” Mr Rego said. “Be prepared to see more bears.”
Ms Mason and Mr Schaub encourage people to call Animal Control at 203-426-6900 if they have a bear in their yard, or any other wildlife issue, for that matter.
“We are here to help. We will do whatever we can to help with a wildlife situation,” Ms Mason said.
The officials warn that there is only so much that can be done, however.
“The most we can do is try to scare them into the woods. We don’t sedate them and relocate them,” Mr Schaub said.
The DEEP website mentions several reasons as to why a “problem bear” cannot be relocated.
“They have a strong homing instinct and may return to where they were caught or become a problem somewhere else,” is one reason.
If a bear is in a densely populated area, contact the DEEP Wildlife Division (860-424-3011, Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm) or DEEP Dispatch (860-424-3333, 24 hours) to report the sighting and obtain advice. For additional advice from the state department, visit its website, ct.gov/DEEP; or click here for the page devoted to Black Bears in Connecticut.
Look for updates to this story in the June 22, 2018 print edition of The Newtown Bee.