Getting used to bears in Fairfield’s backyards
“Can you imagine seeing a bear in one of those trees?” my wife said, pausing at the kitchen sink to gaze out the window. “I mean, can’t you just see the shiny black fur of one in our yard?”
“Yes,” I said, standing beside her to indulge my own imagination. In fact, I had been envisioning black fur between trees and sunrays the entire day, with reports of neighborhood sightings dominating our Facebook newsfeeds. Eventually, the black bear was captured on Denise Terrace, mere blocks from our home, where our three young children scamper about the hardwood floors of their own habitat.
According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “As the bear population expands, interactions between humans and bears will increase. People should learn what to do if they see a bear and how to avoid unnecessary conflicts.” No matter what town you live in, this is now where we should all exist — not in denial, or panic, but in an acceptance of the rational invitation to learn how we can adjust to living among bears.
From Granby to Greenwich, area police departments and wildlife experts in the DEEP have been especially busy this spring and summer responding to calls about black bears. On May 6, near Salmon Brook, in the McLean Game Refuge, a black bear was shot and killed after two separate incidents of the unusually aggressive bear chased two different runners. DEEP biologist, Melissa Ruszczyk, said it was “fortunate” the female runner “was so physically fit” since the bear chased her “over a mile.” Ruszczyk said this was the only instance on record in the state of such an unusually aggressive bear.
I wonder how many of us have already had a bear lumber by us when we weren’t looking, perhaps when we were working from home — immersed in a conference call. Or perhaps we were shoving more laundry into the washer, losing a debate with a toddler, or simply reading our phones. Or perhaps, a bear pawed his way past our sleeping heads, since they are more active at night. The black bear captured on Denise Terrace was relocated to water company property along the Easton/Redding town line, Ruszczyk said.
If you happen to startle a bear, it’s possible it will charge you as a response to its own fear, and then stop a few feet away. Experts suggest that you not run, for many reasons, one of them being that bears can run up to 35 miles per hour. Instead, you should stand your ground. The bear is probably only making a “bluff charge.” Back away slowly, waving your arms and making loud sounds. In this instance, I’m inclined to believe that centuries of evolution — of fight or flight mentality, of super-human surges of adrenalin and a primal instinct to protect my land and my family against predators — would inspire me to stand and roar an Odyssean-like battle cry against the clawed interloper. It seems more possible, however, that I react the same way my daughters act when they are overly nervous at nursery school. I’m inclined to believe I would wet myself, immediately.
Biologists, experienced campers, and some residents with established black bear populations would probably scoff at an alarmist’s mentality, reminding us that black bears are only passing through. If you happen to see a bear, experts say give it space and let it move on.
Some residents are more likely to encounter a bear than others, but more than ever, all of us dwell, somewhere between fascination and fear, between the novelty of seeing such a gorgeous awe-inspiring creature with our own eyes and the terror inspired by a several hundred pound omnivorous predator’s appearance in the yards where our children and pets play. We are situated somewhere between our ignorance of black bear behavior and our potential exposure to them. The continued bear sightings are our communal wake-up calls out of the hibernation of unknowing. We live with bears, which shouldn’t paw irrational fears into our consciousness, but instead, inspire taking steps recommended by DEEP, such as “eliminat[ing] food attractants” like “birdfeeders” and “placing garbage cans in a garage or shed.” My wife and I will keep looking through our windows while standing in front of the kitchen sink, wondering what might be out there between the trees.
James M. Chesbro, a Fairfield resident, is a teacher at Fairfield College Preparatory School and an adjunct professor of English at Fairfield University.