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Black Bear. Photo PJ Fusco  

There are an estimated 300-400 Black Bears in CT. Read about the travels of wandering Bear #36. More...

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By the mid-1800s, Black Bears (Ursus americanus) had disappeared from CT.  But as forests grew up on abandoned farmlands, the number of bears increased rapidly. Today there are an estimated 300 and 400 bears in CT.  The majority live in the northwestern part of the state, but as the population grows, the bears are spreading out. From April 2006-2007, there were 1,897 bear sightings in CT, including 13 in Woodstock, 3 in Eastford, 2 in Ashford, 2 in Brooklyn, 1 in Union.  Many of these were probably wandering Bear #36. 

The Travels of Wandering Bear #36
This map shows the travels of Bear #36 from June 2006 - April 2007. In May 2007 he was seen in Ashford. When DEP captures a bear, they move it to the nearest "suitable spot" which is usually state land or water company. They try to move them as little as possible. This bear was released within 5 miles of the capture site each time. Males typically have a wide home range of 12-60 square miles. See the end of his saga.

Bear #36 was the third bear ear-tagged by the CT DEP in the year 2006 (thus #3-6), according to Jason Hawley, a DEP Wildlife Technician.  When Bear #36 was first captured in Meriden in May, he weighed in at 175 lbs.  He was captured again in June in Orange, and then in October in Woodstock, by which time he weighed 243 lbs.  He spent Christmas in Sturbridge, MA.  In April 2007, he was back in Union and Woodstock.  He is now probably about 300 lbs. (adult males can get up to 450 lbs.), but he can still climb a tree, as Deb and Rob Torcellini of Eastford witnessed.    

Bear #36 specializes in bird feeders.  After ripping down the Torcellini’s birdfeeder and scarfing down the seeds, he proceeded to climb a tree to take down their suet feeder. The Torcellini’s are now bringing their feeders and suet cages inside each night.  Bears are persistent creatures of habit, and generally return to places where they have found easy meals. Whether you like bears and want to see them live, or don’t like bears and don’t want them around, don’t feed them.  DEP warns that “if people do not take precautions, problem behavior by bears can increase, possibly leading to bears being removed or destroyed.’ 

Black Bear in CT. Photo by Paul J. Fusco
Black Bears are intelligent animals with a keen sense of smell. Never attempt to feed or attract bears. Photo courtesy DEP Wildlife Division, Paul J. Fusco.

Hawley says about 80% of the bear nuisance calls DEP gets involve bird feeders. To avoid attracting bears, remove bird feeders from late March through November.  Bears are strong, and can easily bend a mounting pole. You can try hanging feeders from a thin cable suspended between two trees or poles, at least 8 feet off the ground and at 6 to 10 feet horizontally away from any pole or tree. 

Don’t leave pet food dishes out at night. Clean barbecue grills after each use and store them in a shed. Don’t put meat scraps or sweets in your compost piles.  According to Hawley, bears are quite fond of jelly donuts.  Keep garbage cans tightly closed or don’t bring them out until morning. A few capfuls of ammonia in with the garbage will help mask the smell.  It would be very rare for bears to harm cats or dogs, but they may go after pet rabbits.  Livestock and beehives can be protected with an electric fence. 

There are NO documented cases of Black Bears attacking humans in CT.   If you do see a bear, don’t walk up to it and see how close you can get, unless you can run faster then they can (which is up to 35 mph.)  “Bears are curious, but as soon as they know you are a person, 99 out of a hundred will run in the opposite direction as fast as they can,” says Hawley.  If they do approach, sllllllloooooooowly walk away.

Bear scat. Photo by Paul J. Fusco
This pile of bear scat is filled with whole blueberries. In addition to fruit, Black Bears eat grass, nuts, insects (especially ants and bees), carrion, birdseed, and garbage. DEP uses jelly donuts as bait when they want to capture bears for tagging or relocation. Photo courtesy DEP Wildlife Division, Paul J. Fusco.

DEP has radio collars on 16 female bears, which have a more restricted home range than males like Bear #36.  Also, a male bear’s neck is often bigger than their head, so the collar could fall off.  Five of the bears have new Global Positioning System (GPS) collars that provide locational data every two hours, compared to the older collars that provide one data point a week.  DEP uses the information to look at range, and cub production and survival. 

Adults “den” during the winter when the weather is nasty and food is in short supply.  While denning, the bears’ body temperature and heart rate drop. They do not eat, drink or go to the bathroom for months, relying on their fat reserves while retaining muscle mass.

Signs that bear have been in your area include claw or bite marks on trees or telephone poles, or tracks – the front ones look sort of like human footprints. You may also find bear scat in big (about 6” wide x 3-4” high) pleasant-smelling (or so they say) piles. The poop pile will be filled with whatever they happen to be eating  - e.g., sunflower seeds, whole blueberries or corn.  If you do sight a bear, report it to DEP online or at (860) 675-8130.


More Information:

Originally published in the Villager newspapers on May 4, 2007. Special thanks for Jason Hawley of the DEP Wildlife Division, furbearer program, for his help on this article.

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