Connecticut Lawmakers Vote To Allow People To Use Lethal Force As Bear Population Grows

Connecticut lawmakers voted on Friday to take action to protect people from the state’s growing bear population. But they stopped long before a bear hunt and restrictions on people unwittingly feeding hungry animals.

The legislation, which cleared the House of Representatives in a 115-32 vote after being overhauled by the Senate, explicitly allows someone to use deadly force to kill a bear in Connecticut if they reasonably believe inflicts or is about to inflict serious bodily harm to a person or domestic animal or enters an occupied building.

“It just takes the guesswork out of standing up for what we love,” said Republican Rep. Patrick Callahan, whose northwestern Connecticut district has seen a lot of bear activity in recent years.

The bill, now moving through the desk of Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, was one of the most emotional issues of this year’s legislative session. He pitted lawmakers who want to protect animals against those whose voters are afraid to let their children play in their backyards.

Reports of bears interacting with humans have become commonplace in Connecticut. Last month, a hungry black bear burst into the garage of a bakery in suburban Avon, spooked several employees and helped itself to 60 cupcakes before stalking away. The intrusion was filmed on CCTV.

A 74-year-old woman was bitten on her arms and legs in April when she was attacked by a bear while walking her dog in a Hartford suburb, the first such attack this year. There have been two attacks in the past year, including one in October where a 10-year-old boy was maimed in a backyard.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), which estimates there are 1,000 to 1,200 bears in the state, has advocated for limited bear hunting. This idea, however, was highly controversial and was removed from the bill in March.

According to DEEP, bears entered residential homes 67 times in 2022, eclipsing the previous record of 45 home invasions. The agency said bears entered homes in Connecticut less than 10 times a year just seven years ago.

Under the bill addressed to the governor, the state agency can issue nuisance wildlife permits to kill “certain wildlife,” including bears, that threaten or cause damage to agricultural crops, livestock and apiaries – a concept supported by many farmers in the state. In order to obtain a permit, the owner must prove that he has made non-lethal attempts, such as electric fences, to thwart the bears.

Some critics of the bill have expressed concern that people could take advantage of these permits, arguing that the legislation could be abusive.

The bill also prohibits people from intentionally feeding potentially dangerous animals, including bears, on private land, making the violation an offence. It originally included restrictions on unintentional bear feeding, such as leaving trash accessible and hanging bird feeders, but that was removed in the Senate, much to the dismay of some House members.

Democratic Representative Mary Mushinsky said Connecticut needs a Bear Smart program to teach residents how to safely coexist with bears, like what is in place in other states.

“Remember, we have unfinished business to make our state a Bear Smart state,” she told her colleagues. She and other lawmakers predicted the issue would come up again next year.

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