Legislative Shenanigans Would Create Trophy Hunting Loophole
Senate Bill 586 moves us in the wrong direction by creating a loophole that would allow for trophy hunting of Connecticut’s small bear population while doing nothing to encourage prevention of conflicts with wildlife.
If passed, any landowners, lessees or their designees (this bill is not limited to farmers, as proponents are suggesting) could apply for a permit to kill any wildlife (including bears) perceived to be doing "unreasonable damage" not only to crops, but to livestock, poultry, or bees. Hunting could take place during the day or night, outside of established hunting seasons, and in residential neighborhoods (e.g., backyard chickens or hobby beekeepers). There is no definition of "qualified person" with respect to whom a permit may be issued (DEEP has historically been extremely liberal with issuance of permits) and no requirement for prevention strategies or non-lethal solutions. But most disturbingly, this bill creates an incentive to exaggerate conflicts by specifically allowing the person to keep the killed animal for retention of the body as a "trophy," and incentivizes the trafficking of wildlife animal parts, such as the lucrative trade in bear paws, gall bladder and other body parts.
Trophy hunting will likely result in many orphaned bear cubs, who would normally spend 2 years with their mother learning critical survival skills. These cubs, without a mother teaching them who and what to avoid, stand a greater chance of approaching people and a high risk of premature death.
The bill’s current language includes content that had no public hearing, and the name of the bill was whitewashed from "Bear Hunting in Litchfield County" to "Control of Nuisance Wildlife," seemingly to divert public outrage over the hugely unpopular idea of trophy hunting our state's small bear population (changing of a bill's name is allowed, but extremely rare). After last year’s expansion of Sunday hunting, a bill that did not have public support and was swept onto a larger DEEP bill to allow for its passage, there exists concern that deceptive maneuvering is once again at play.
Proponents are arguing that farmers need this bill, but DEEP has long relied on a seemingly unrelated trapping statute in order to allow farmers to kill bears doing damage to property (CGS 26-72), as evidenced by a 2009 OLR report (2009-R-0313) and again in a 2018 OLR report (2018-R-0265).
Science shows that human-bear conflicts are best managed through public education on how to remove food attractants, and if needed, use measures such as electric fencing around beehives, properly securing enclosures (like chicken coops), the use of birthing pastures, hazing, aversive conditioning, Karelian bear dogs and other humane methods. Such coexistence strategies often offer the benefit of being long-term solutions. Killing tends to create a cruel cycle of killing.
Trophy hunters have been after a bear hunting season for many years now. SB 586 is a poorly drafted bill that exacerbates the problems caused by DEEP's overly broad interpretation of laws that benefit trophy hunters and actively discourage humane responses.
Annie Hornish is Connecticut State Director for The Humane Society of the United States and a member of Sierra Club.