HARTFORD, Conn. -- Connecticut's population of about 700 black bears is growing at a rate of about 10 percent each year, according to wildlife experts, an increase that could more than double the current number of bears in this state over the next decade.
Those predictions and the rising number of bear-human confrontations are leading to renewed calls for legalizing bear hunting in the state. The 2017 Legislature killed a bear hunt bill after fierce opposition from animal rights groups and many nature lovers.
Hunting advocates point to the rising number of bear sightings around the state -- 6,276 in the past year -- and numerous bear attacks on livestock and pets as evidence of the need to control the bear population. But they are also doubtful that lawmakers will take action in time to prevent more serious incidents.
"Somebody's probably going to have to get hurt before we get a bear hunt," said Bob Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen. "That's the feeling of a lot of people I talk to," he added. "I hope that doesn't happen."
Connecticut is the only state in the Northeast with a significant bear population that doesn't allow bear hunting.
Anti-bear hunt activists argue that a more effective and humane way to deal with the rising number of bears in Connecticut is to educate people about protecting garbage and other food sources from these clever and always hungry omnivores, and explain to people what to do when they encounter a bear.
Bear hunting hasn't reduced the number of human-bear confrontations in New Jersey, said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. Since hunting of black bears in that state was resumed in 2010 with the support of Gov. Chris Christie, "aggressive bear incidences haven't gone down, they've stayed about the same," Tittel said.
But Jason Hawley, a veteran wildlife biologist with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said data he's seen from New Jersey indicates that bear-human confrontations in that state "certainly did decrease" after bear hunting was authorized.
Hawley said in states that allow bear hunting, one beneficial side effect "is installing a natural fear of humans, which is a good thing." He said that in Maine, the state with the largest population of black bears in the U.S. outside Alaska, "you rarely even see a bear ... And if you do see a bear, it's running full speed away from you."
"Connecticut bears have no fear of humans," Hawley said.