CT town proposes ordinance prohibiting people from feeding bears, coyotes

Black bears are commonly seen in many areas of Connecticut. This large male is tagged, making it easier for the DEEP to keep track of it.

BARKHAMSTED — Residents who leave food outdoors for bears and coyotes could be fined, according to a new ordinance being developed by local officials.

A town meeting is scheduled for Tuesday to discuss the proposed ordinance, which First Selectman Don Stein said is an effort to discourage people from feeding wild animals.

“What prompted this was, we’ve had a few complaints from residents about people feeding bears in their own back yards, and there was also a resident in Hartland, the next town over from us, who started what was called ‘bear tourism’ where he’d lease property, set up feeding stations, and then bring people in with a mini-van to see them,” Stein said. “He said it was going to improve economic development and tourism.”

That area resident reasoned that by diverting the bears to a different feeding habitat away from residential areas, it would stop bears from coming into people’s yards, according to a story by WFSB published in June 2019. The resident also said people could photograph the bears at these new feeding areas.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection opposed the idea, and so did people from Hartland, who said it was just a way to make money off the bears.

Stein said most residents in the northwest corner are accustomed to seeing bears around, but don’t want to encourage them.

“Up here in Barkhamsted and other towns, there’s enough bears without feeding them,” Stein said. “People learn to live with them, and we don’t call the DEEP every time we see one, unless they’re causing some kind of a problem.

“But if we encourage them, that’s not a good idea,” he said. “They’re here, they live here, so do we. And they wander through people’s yards. We don’t want to encourage them to stay around.”

The proposed ordinance prohibits the intentional feeding of bears and other wild animals that could pose a threat to residents, he said.

The ordinance reads: “No person shall: Feed, give, place, expose, deposit, distribute or scatter any edible material or other attractant with the intention of feeding, attracting or enticing a bear; or store any pet food, including birdseed, garbage or other bear attractants in a manner that will result in bear feeding or baiting (“attracting”).

Anyone who violates the ordinance could be fined up to $100 for each offense, which will increase by $25 “if the feeding does not stop,” according to the ordinance. Those fines are at the discretion of the Board of Selectmen. The ordinance, Stein said, will be enforced by local animal control officers, police from State Police Troop B and the resident state trooper, and enforcement officers from DEEP.

Stein said the state also is considering its own legislation for bear baiting and feeding, and that the effort is led by state Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton.

“If the state passes an ordinance of its own, it would support ours,” Stein said. “Kevin Witkos has some issues with this problem too — his dog was killed by a coyote, so it’s very personal to him.”

In an email, Witkos said he was encouraged by Barkhamsted’s ordinance plan.

“In places like Barkhamsted and across the Farmington Valley and Northwest Corner, seeing wildlife is a daily part of life for many residents,” he wrote. “However, it is important that people recognize the dangerous consequences that can occur when wild animals like black bears and coyotes are lured to a person’s yard or property as the result of intentional feeding. I am glad to see this issue being discussed at the local level and I will be working to craft legislation for the upcoming session to address wildlife management as well.”

Stein said he and his board were “very careful” with the ordinance when they wrote it. If a bear comes into someone’s yard and feeds from fruit trees or a garden, the homeowner is not responsible.

“We’re not telling people to cut down their fruit trees or anything,” he said. “That’s not what this is about.”

The DEEP devotes a portion of its website to black bears and other wild animals in Connecticut, warning people to avoid contact with them whenever possible.

“If a bear is seen in your town or neighborhood, leave it alone,” DEEP officials wrote. “In most situations, if left alone and given an avenue for escape, the bear will usually wander back into more secluded areas. Keep dogs under control. Stay away from the bear and advise others to do the same. Do not approach the bear so as to take a photo or video. Often a bear will climb a tree to avoid people. A crowd of bystanders will only stress the bear and also add the risk that the bear will be chased into traffic or the crowd of people.”

If a bear is seen in a densely populated area, residents are asked to contact the DEEP Wildlife Division at 860-424-3011, or DEEP Dispatch at 860-424-3333.

Barkhamsted’s Jan. 28 meeting begins at 7 p.m. and will be held at Barkhamsted School. Anyone with questions is asked to contact First Selectman Don Stein at 860-379-8285. The ordinance is available for review at town hall.

Connecticut Media Group