photo credit:  Lonny Fennessey

Bear sightings anecdotally seem to be up this summer. This image (above) was captured just last Friday, Aug. 14 on West Meadow Rd.. That follows several reports on Thursday of a bear spotted at various locations along Sturges Ridge and Pine Ridge Rds..

There is a website that tracks the number of bear sightings in CT within the previous 365 days, tracking town by town. Last time we checked (June 24, 2015) there had been eight (8) bears sighted in Wilton between 6/27/14 and 6/24/15.  Now, however, that number is at 20 bears seen in Wilton between 8/16/14 and 8/13/15. 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.

Of course it’s still a lot less than the number of sightings in Avon, CT, which as of Aug. 13 of this year had seen 381 bears in the last 365 or so days.

We ran this same information in June, but perhaps it “bears” repeating:

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?

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.”