Bear sightings, wildlife complaints on the rise

Margaret Distassio recently snapped this photo of a bear in her backyard.
Margaret Distassio recently snapped this photo of a bear in her backyard.

A string of bear sightings in the Trumbull High area kept Animal Control Officer Lynn Dellabianca busy over the weekend. Dellabianca said she tracked the animal for about two hours over the weekend but was unable to spot it. Even if she had, her options were limited.

“I don’t carry bear spray, or anything to trap them with,” Dellabianca said. “So mainly, the idea was to inform residents that there was a bear in the area.”

Black bears have become increasingly common in suburban Connecticut towns in recent years, and Dellabianca’s best advice is to simply leave them alone.

“They’re looking for food, so I generally advise people to not do anything to draw them to your yard,” she said. “They’ll go after bird feeders, or pet food that people leave out for animals. We’ve also gotten reports of them going into compost piles where people bury food scraps. Just try not to put easy meals out for them.”

Though bears are the largest animals wandering the woods in the area, they are not alone. Many wild animals are becoming increasingly active as the weather warms up.

“This is the time of year they’re out, and now we’re seeing a lot of their young, too,” Dellabianca said. “Many of them are weaning their babies, and so they’re out during the day hunting.”

This time of year, it is helpful to remind residents about wildlife. The general rule is to simply leave animals alone unless they are obviously sick or injured or acting aggressively toward people or pets.

Also, Animal Control will not remove nuisance wildlife, so don’t call the town if there is a family of woodchucks on the lawn.

“The best thing to do is exclude wildlife from your property,” Dellabianca said. “Close off the areas under your deck or shed so they can’t build a nest underneath.”

Trapping animals tends to be counterproductive, Dellabianca said. Not only will another animal soon move in to the newly empty territory, but then a homeowner has a tricky problem of what to do with the trapped animal. According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, animals like raccoons, skunks and foxes may not be released alive. Most homeowners, though, would be reluctant to kill a trapped animal, and might release it several miles away. But such an animal is likely doomed anyway, Dellabianca said.

“You’re releasing it into another animal’s territory, and they likely won’t survive,” she said. “Or, if it was a nursing mother, it will try to get back to its den and run the risk of getting hit by a car.”

Also, small predators like foxes have their benefits. They eat mice and chipmunks and other rodents that can carry the ticks that cause Lyme disease. Just make sure to keep an eye on small pets when they are outside.

“We live in an area where we have a lot of woods and greenways, and they’re on the move,” she said. “Let them live their lives.”

Larger animals like coyotes can also be encouraged to build their dens elsewhere by “hazing” techniques to create an uncomfortable situation for them. Coyote hazing kits, including an air horn, whistle and reflective tape, among other items, are available from the Animal Control Department. The department also has plenty of additional information and handouts to help residents cope with nuisance wildlife. Call 203-452-5088.