The image above was captured on Tuesday morning, May 24, by Diane McDermott, shot through a screened window from inside the EMS headquarters behind Town Hall. The bear had been spotted first almost 30-minutes before on Briarwood Ln., and Facebook chatter put the bear roaming east of Rte. 7 near the Norwalk River Valley Trail (NRVT) all Tuesday morning.

The NRVT was exactly where Carrie Preisano and Laraine McCormack were walking when they came upon the bear, near the boardwalk at the lower end of the trail’s east side. They found themselves 30 yards from it when they realized what it was. Preisano describes what happened:

“[Laraine] hightailed it out of there while I picked up my dog and walked very slowly away. [The bear] looked at me and then turned around and walked north, back towards the Skunk/Briardale direction,” Preisano recalls. By her estimate it was approximately 300-400 lbs.

There is a website that tracks the number of bear sightings in CT within the previous 365 days, tracking town by town. They’re slightly different time periods, but it’s still a significant stat, considering that those numbers reflect only actual sightings reported to the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT-DEEP). There are likely many others that haven’t been called in at all.

Within the last year there were 34 reported black bear sightings in Wilton. Of course it’s still a lot less than the number of sightings in Avon, CT which as of May 23 of this year has had 489 bear sightings in the last year.

News spread fast on Wilton’s 411 Facebook page and once we posted McDermott’s great photo on GMW‘s social media pages. Reactions varied, running the gamut from, “I hope he’s heading my way, I want to see him,” to “I think I’d have a panic attack!” He kept popping up in town, with sightings into the afternoon on Sharp Hill Rd. and further south, across Westport Rd. on West Wind Ln..

Consider the advice that came from the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps Facebook moderator (who was probably following the post closely after the bear had been spotted just outside the WVAC headquarter’s back door):  “Just enjoy the beauty of it. You are more likely to get struck by lightning or killed by a bee sting then being attacked by a black bear.” (Interesting side note, there was also a report of a lightning strike on Tuesday as well.)

As the person who probably came closest to the bear Tuesday, Preisano has a pretty relaxed take on the experience. “Yes, I will go back to the trail. I love the trail. I think the snake I saw yesterday scared me more.”

What to do Face to Face with a Bear

If you find yourself face-to-face with a black bear, the DEEP Wildlife Division has some easy-to-remember tips, especially as it’s increasingly likely that there will be more sightings as more and more of the bears’ natural habitat is encroached by human development:

  • Enjoy it from a distance.
  • Advertise your presence by shouting and waving your arms or walk slowly away.
  • Never attempt to feed or attract bears.
  • Report bear sightings to the DEEP Wildlife Division, at 860.675.8130.

But let’s say you’re a runner or hiker who spends time on any of Wilton’s many trails, either alone, with others or walking a dog, what can you do?

It sounds like Carrie Preisano did the right thing Tuesday, by walking slowly and calmly away.

According to the DEEP website, “DEEP suggests making your presence known by making noise and waving your arms. If you surprise a bear at close range, walk away slowly while facing the bear. Do not run. Try to stay calm as you make your retreat. Black bears will sometimes ‘bluff charge’ to within a few feet of you when they feel threatened. If this happens, stand your ground and shout at the bear. Do not climb a tree because black bears are excellent tree climbers. Make sure your dog is on a leash and under control.”

They reiterate that bears usually avoid people, but it’s likely that they’ve gotten more used to us, just as we’re getting more used to seeing them.

There are steps you can take to avoid attracting bears:

  • Remove bird feeders from late March through November.
  • Don’t take trash out at night. Keep lids tight on all garbage cans and store them in a garage or shed.
  • Do not leave pet food outside overnight.
  • If you compost, don’t compost meats or sweet-smelling fruit rinds.
  • Thoroughly clean grills after use.
  • Don’t feed bears.

DEET’s fact sheet has some other interesting—and hopefully reassuring—information.

“Black bears are generally shy and secretive and usually fearful of humans. However, if they regularly find food near houses and areas of human activity, they can lose their fear of humans. Unlike grizzly bears, black bears are seldom aggressive toward humans.

“Females with cubs tend to have restricted home ranges which average 5 to 7 square miles in Connecticut, while males move about widely in home ranges of 12 to 60 square miles. The size of a home range varies geographically and often depends on the quality of habitat. Most ranges are used by more than one bear, but specific areas are rarely used at the same time. There can be some broad overlap between male and female ranges. In their home territories, bears may mark trees (called “bear trees”) along their travel routes by clawing and biting the bark. Black bears are good tree climbers and strong swimmers. They also can run up to 35 miles per hour.”