by Ray Bendici
Mar 25, 2013
11:14 AMUnsteady Habits
Hunting Bear Once Again Up for Debate
Connecticut Environmental Conservation Officer Paul Hilli and a drugged Connecticut black bear during a tagging and monitoring exercise in 2011.
I recently saw this article in the Connecticut Post about how the Connecticut state legislature is considering allowing the hunting of black bears in the state. The current proposal would limit hunting to certain areas of the state and require a fee to just participate in the lottery to get a permit.
Also from the article:
A study under way on the number of bear in the state would have to support thinning the population. The bill allows the state to authorize hunting after February 2014, if the population study warrants it.
Bill Hyatt, natural resources bureau chief for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said DEEP believes the state's bear population, now at about 500, is steadily rising.
"It's not a precise estimate," Hyatt said. "We are working with the University of Connecticut to get a better estimate. We talk about bear being a problem and a nuisance but this is a success story. The population was gone 100 years ago and it's been able to recover."
Of course, as soon as I heard about this debate, I think of my own black bear experience during a "Being There" column back in May 2011 when I spent the day with Connecticut Environmental Conservation (EnCon) officer Paul Hilli (see picture above). During my visit, we met up with DEEP wildlife biologist Paul Rego and wildlife technicians Jason Hawley and Alex Johnston as they were out in the People's State Forest tracking and tagging black bears, which was a really unique experience.
What struck me from that day was how all four of the men, each of whom is a dedicated environmental professional and clearly loves animals, agreed that the best way to control the growing bear population in Connecticut is through responsible hunting, especially since there are very few natural predators of bears, other than humans. Taking Connecticut bears and dumping them in other more remote places is not a practical option, either. The DEEP biologists suggested that it might be tough to sell to the general public because bears are thought of as "cuddly and cute." (And to be told, the cubs they were tagging were adorable.) Hilli suggested that 90 percent of the bears are "good," and it's only a few that cause problems—and those could be greatly reduced by the proper scheduling of hunting locations, days and times.
At that time, they conservatively estimated the Connecticut bear population to be between 500 and 1,000, and growing at a rate of better than 15 percent annually. They also thought it will become a big problem sooner rather later if it's not dealt with properly. Matching how densely populated Connecticut is versus the number of bears, it's only a matter of time before there's an unfortunate incident, which no one wants. Two years ago, a few piglets and a dog were attacked by bears.
Of course, the new proposal to allow a lottery for bear-hunting permits is also going to stir up controversy, which is fine. The more ideas and suggestions on how to deal with this problem, the better it is for all involved, including the bears. Currently, 28 states allow black bear hunting, including close neighbors Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania,
The good news is that the DEEP is being proactive about the situation rather than waiting for a bear to attack someone's children and then having to explain why they didn't do anything about it sooner. Hunting may not be a popular or politically correct solution, but at least the issue of the growing bear population is being addressed. Let the debate continue!