CT bear hunt proposal met with opposition in Newtown, where killing of mama bear sparked outcry

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NEWTOWN — Mitch Bolinsky is the state lawmaker who fielded the brunt of the public outcry when a mama bear known as Bobbi was shot killed by an off-duty Ridgefield police sergeant when marauding on his property.

In the aftermath of the 2022 shooting of the bear and the orphaning of her two cubs, which brought national attention to Newtown, Bolinsky heard the message loud and clear hundreds of times in calls and emails for weeks after the event: nobody wants bears being shot in Newtown.

So it was no surprise that Bolinsky was among the 700 people to testify against a bill that would “open the door to a proposed bear hunting season.”

“We do not have a population problem when it comes to black bears,” said Bolinsky, who represents Newtown in the state House of Representatives. “We’re talking about a very small number of 1,000-to-1,200 (bears) and all the bears are doing is responding to their need to have nourishment.”

Some 360 people spoke in support of the bill, which would “authorize “certain hunting and killing of black bear” and prohibit “bird feeders and other unintentional feeding of potentially dangerous animals” during a public hearing before the state legislature’s Environment Committee last week.

Bolinsky’s testimony against the bill follows an annual “State of the Bears” report released last week by Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection that documented a dramatic increase in the number of confrontations between bears and people. In 2022 there were a record 67 such confrontations in 22 towns along with two attacks on people, the DEEP report said.

The solution according to DEEP and other advocates of the bill: allow hunters to kill up to 50 black bears each year in Litchfield County, and allow farmers with complaints about foraging bears destroying their crops and killing their livestock to apply to the state for permission to kill nuisance bears. At the same time, the bill would ban the intentional feeding of wild animals including bears, bobcats and coyotes. Wildlife officers could also issue written notices to residents who are unintentionally feeding bears through bird feeders or trash, with fines levied if residents fail to address the problem.  

A better solution than hunting, Bolinsky said, is a bill that would incentivize non-lethal ways to reduce confrontations between bears and people.

“(The non-lethal bill) includes a conflict-reduction community grant program that will, among other strategies, provide funding to communities for bear-resistant trash cans and electric fencing around chicken coops and beehives,” Bolinsky said in a prepared statement.

“The bill would also include an educational component; a prohibition of intentional or unintentional feeding of black bears; establishment of bear cub rehabilitation guidelines; and explore a system to make restitution to farmers experiencing damage caused by bears,” he said.

The non-lethal bill was referred to the legislature’s Environmental Committee two months ago and has not moved.

Meanwhile, spring officially begins next week, which means bears are coming out of their hibernation.

Reach Rob Ryser at rryser@newstimes.com or 203-731-3342