Should people be allowed to kill threatening bears? Lawmakers advance controversial bill

On Wednesday, state lawmakers advanced controversial legislation allowing “deadly force” – and some want to reconsider a bear hunting season.

John Craven

May 3, 2023, 9:44 PM

Updated 392 days ago


Bear encounters are rising dramatically in Connecticut, but should people be allowed to kill threatening bears? On Wednesday, state lawmakers advanced controversial legislation allowing “deadly force” – and some want to reconsider a bear hunting season.
“Something has to be done here,” said state Sen. Stephen Harding (R-Brookfield).
Two weeks ago, a bear attacked a 74 year-old woman in Avon who was walking her dog.
“It's scary with kids and our family here knowing that they can be aggressive, because we haven't really seen that out of them before,” neighbor Stephanie Rose told NBC Connecticut.
Just days before the incident, wildlife officials had to euthanize another bear in Salisbury. Last fall, a 10 year-old boy in Morris was seriously hurt in a bear attack.
Generally, only authorities can kill bears, but a proposed bill would let the public use deadly force if they believe an attack is imminent. The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee advanced the proposal on Wednesday, sending it to the full state Senate.
“Presently under our law, if you’ve got a 5-year-old daughter playing in the backyard and mom looks out the window and sees her child being attacked by a bear, mom has, under our law, one choice – call the police,” said state Rep. Craig Fishbein (R-Wallingford).
Earlier this year, lawmakers removed language allowing a bear hunting lottery in Litchfield County. But after the recent Avon attack, that idea could now be revived.
“There are now legislators interested in perhaps coming back to that issue,” said state Rep. Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford), the top Democrat in the Connecticut House. “That doesn't mean that necessarily something's going to happen with it.”
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) supports a limited bear hunt. DEEP was scheduled to meet with House Speaker Matt Ritter (D-Hartford) on Wednesday.
More people – in more places – reported seeing bears in 2022, according to a DEEP “State of the Bears” report. In particular, northwestern Connecticut's bear population is exploding.
The legislation would also fine homeowners up to $90 for leaving food outside, but some lawmakers are worried that people will get unfairly penalized.
“There are a great many people who feed birds as a hobby,” said state Sen. Rob Sampson (R-Wolcott). “I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to interfere with someone’s right to feed birds on their private property.”
Instead of bear hunting, animal rights groups say the focus should be on mitigation.
“We think that DEEP and other state agencies – the Department of Agriculture – should ramp up their efforts to provide electric fencing around apiaries and chicken coops,” Scott Smith, with Friends of Animals told News 12 in March.
Although letting people kill threatening bears is controversial, lawmakers from both parties said, doing nothing is no longer an option.
“Especially for people who want to avoid a full-on recreational bear hunt of these wild animals, it is critical that we step up,” said state Rep. Melissa Osborne (D-Simsbury).

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