State's wildlife policy debated after encounter with bear

AP News
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Posted: Sep 01, 2015 1:54 PM

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A debate over Connecticut's wildlife policy reignited after state officials said last week they will trap and kill a bear cub that approached a hiker in a wildlife area, startling but not harming her.

Animal rights advocates say the policy is inhumane and ineffective, and a social media petition drive protesting the planned killing gathered more than 14,000 signatures by Tuesday.

State wildlife officials say the bear was "bold and aggressive" and euthanizing it will protect the public.

Stephanie Rivkin said the young bear that approached her Friday and another watching from a distance were "very gentle."

"I was scared, but not for my life," she said, adding, "but maybe for a second."

As Connecticut's bear population rises, state wildlife officials and animal advocates clash with each encounter between the animals and humans. The incident at Sessions Woods Wildlife Management Area in Burlington received more attention because Rivkin captured it on videotape and posted it online.

The bear, whose ears are tagged from a previous encounter with state wildlife officials, approached Rivkin so closely it put its nose against her leg. It appeared curious or nervous and ran several times to a tree.

Rivkin, 38, kept walking and talked softly to the animal. "Don't be scared," she said several times.

Officials quickly closed the wildlife area to visitors and said they would trap and kill the bear.

Rivkin said the decision upset her. "I'm not sure of the intentions of that place," she said.

Dave Garshelis, a wildlife research scientist at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and an expert on bears at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said people who feed bears are creating the problem. Relocating a bear doesn't guarantee its behavior will change, and euthanizing it is often the only way to protect the public, he said.

"A normal black bear should make itself scarce and not be seen," Garshelis said.

Katherine Campoli, who said she was "very upset" to hear about Connecticut's plan to kill the bear, launched a petition campaign on Twitter, using the hashtag #sparethebear. She said she will present the petition to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

"I'm going to take it as far as it can go to save this little guy," she said.

The Humane Society of the United States met last month with environmental commissioner Rob Klee and other officials to protest the agency's killing of a bear after an encounter in May. The two sides disagree over the extent of public education about bears.

Rivkin said she's ready to avoid the area and cede it to the bears.

"Maybe I need to stay out of the woods and respect their space," she said.

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Follow Stephen Singer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SteveSinger10