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What you need to know to stay safe around bears in Connecticut

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HARTFORD -- Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is asking residents to take steps to minimize potential encounters with bears. In 2016, DEEP received 6,700 reported sightings. Of those, roughly 1,000 involved conflict, such as property damage.

The current numbers are a marked increase since Connecticut began recording bear sightings. “If you go back 30 years, we received only about 100 [sightings] per year,” said Paul Rego, DEEP wildlife biologist. So far in 2017, DEEP has received 650 reported sightings.

Rego said the biggest increases in reported sightings come from West Hartford and Farmington. “Every day, we get multiple calls about bears and bear complaints,” said Rego. Rego said the surge is due to an increasing bear population.

Residents have certainly noticed the larger population. “[It was] 18 years before I saw my first bear,” said Roger Verbyla of Unionville.

“I saw one last year for the first time in my life on Pinehurst Road in Bristol,” said lifelong Bristol resident Dennis Manning.

“Every year, you hear more and more stories of bears,” said Rob Busha of Bristol. “Everybody seems to have a bear story now.”

Residents are urged to never feed bears, and to put away birdfeeders by late March. Garbage should be stored inside a secure garage or storage area, double bagged. DEEP encourages residents supervise dogs at all times when outside, and keep them on a leash while walking and hiking. A roaming dog could be perceived by a bear as a threat. You should also avoid placing meat scraps or sweet foods in composting piles. Do not leave pet food outdoors and keep barbecue grills clean. If you have beehives, livestock or berry bushes, protect it with electric fencing.

DEEP said if you encounter a bear outside, yell and make loud noises. Never try to get close to take a picture, and never run. If you encounter an aggressive bear, get to safety, and immediately contact DEEP’s 24-hour dispatch line at 860-424-3333. To report a black bear sighting, you can fill out a form at www.ct.gov/deep/wildlife or call DEEP’s Wildlife Division at 860-424-3011.

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