Bear With Us

A big black bear’s weekend ramble through Westport elicited plenty of chatter. There were blog posts,  Facebook photos, some bad puns (see headline above), and predictable jokes about what bears do in the woods.

But lurking behind all the heh-heh-I’m-not-worried comments are serious issues.

An “06880” reader — who has had extended conversations with the Merritt Parkway Conservancy and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — emailed me with several concerns.

“State urban forest experts have suggested that deforestation of the Merritt Parkway, and clear-cutting for large developments like the new YMCA at Mahackeno, will result in more wildlife venturing into residential areas from previously forested areas.

“And a black bear appears in backyards soon after.”

The bear, on Tupelo Road.

The bear, on Tupelo Road.

“Although a bear may be categorized as a singular public safety issue, it should be considered in context with other issues,” the reader continues.

“Reduction of urban forest  in suburban communities ultimately results in other public safety issues. For instance, Westport is wedged between 2 significant diesel fume corridors. Particulate matter from both the Merritt and I-95  corridors is filtered by the urban forest.” Increased levels of asthma may result.

Clear-cutting dangerous trees on the Merritt Parkway solves one problem. But traffic jams -- due to tree work, accidents or just plain rush hour -- brings other environmental problems.

Clear-cutting dangerous trees on the Merritt Parkway solves one problem. But traffic jams — due to tree work, accidents or just plain rush hour — brings other environmental problems.

The reader also worries that after large parcels of land are deforested, they are paved with conventional asphalt — not modern “pervious paving,” which reduces runoff, traps suspended solids, and filters pollutants from the water.

“Certainly we cannot solve everything instantly,” the reader acknowledges.

“The bear is not the primary issue. But it could be an example of cause and effect specific to Merritt Parkway and Mahackeno deforestation. We need to identify issues as they arise, and together plan viable strategies for urban forest management.”

24 responses to “Bear With Us

  1. Bart Shuldman

    Dan. In keeping with your new policy of no more anonymous commenters, I would suggest you name the person who is the ‘06880 reader’. This way we can decide if their comments were motivated by personal interest or not.

    This one seems a bit interesting as they mention the Y development. Seems like an ‘agenda’ to me.

    • Good point. But I’ll follow the policy of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and every other newspaper, which permits people to be quoted without name in news stories (provided the editors know who they are), while using real names for letters to the editor.

      This person does not have a direct Y interest, but was citing Mahackeno as an example of what happens when formerly wooded areas are deforested.

  2. John Hartwell


    The Times policy on anonymity also requires that the source have a good reason to remain unnamed, and that the paper be faced with losing their only source for that specific fact or informed point of view if they don’t agree. So when they use an anonymous source you (should) always see a short statement explaining why.

    Neither of these seem to be operating in this case, and I had the same question that Bart had. It would also help to know more about the person to better evaluate their depth of knowledge, especially around the purported “safety issues” of deforestation. I also believe there are huge issues caused by being situated between I-95 and the Merritt, as well as being downwind of coal-fired electric plants in the Midwest, and if this person is credible it would help me to be more confident in quoting their argument.

    So the identity question cuts both ways, and transparency is the best and simplest policy.

    • Also a good point, John. I’ll “bear” it in mind going forward. However, since I granted anonymity to this person, I’m not going to renege now.

  3. mary hoffman

    Years ago we were camping on Vancouver Island where black bears are common. We were told healthy bears stay in the woods during the day and do not bother humans. We were warned that at night, if food was left out, it was normal for the bears to seek out the food. While we were at this camp site, there was a female bear that was wandering dangerously close to where we were with the kids, thankfully the camp dogs barked and chased the bear away. We were told that this bear was probably ill in some way, and might have been rejected by the other bears, or maybe her cub died. We learned that healthy bears do not want to be near humans any more than we want to be near them. Sadly, one night this bear attacked the tent where the camp cooks were sleeping (maybe they smelled like the delicious dinner we enjoyed earlier that evening) The bear was shot and killed, which was a HUGE deal. The camp had to register the killing and send the bear off for an autopsy to determine if the bear was ill. I wonder if this single bear that has been sighted in Westport might be unwell, and perhaps should be humanely moved to an area that would be happier for the bear and safer for kids.

  4. Steve Stein

    I don’t mind sharing my Westport acre with wood chucks creating a putting green full of holes, herds of deer eating my flowers, nasty looking turkeys staring down my car and an occasional mangy coyote smelling up the back deck- BUT- I draw the line at a bear cavorting across my property and sizing up my house. I can’t outrun, stare down or be meaner than a bear!!

    From what I understand mother bears will defend their young if they perceive a threat. And some bears are nastier and more of a threat than others.

    So my questions for any experts out there are- Now that we are all ready deforesting the Merritt and build a new Y at Mahackeno – How much of a threat is this black bear to the human population and what should we be doing besides keeping the garbage inside a closed garage, our dogs and children inside the house and checking out the surroundings when we get out of our cars? Are we more likely to meet this animal at night when it will be impossible to see, at dusk when it will be next to impossible to see or during the day when most of us are out and about?

    In the long run- I am not not sure which is the better solution- tranquilizing the bear and moving it or tranquilizing me and moving me!!

  5. Bart Shuldman

    Just found the below information. Seems your source might have it backwards. Sorry-Dan-this seems to much like a personal agenda after reading this:

    They can reside in wooded residential areas as well. Black bears were native to Connecticut but were erradicated in the state in the mid-1800s. They are coming back to the state as former Connecticut farmlands are reverting to woods.

    • John McCarthy

      Yes Bart, because everywhere you look in Westport you see
      farms that have reverted back to woods. And not every available 1/2 acre lot turned into McMansion-ville, or every 20 acre forested open spot turned into condos or health clubs. I guess I just don’t see that trend at play in Westport.

      • Bart Shuldman

        Or turned into Barons South?

        • John McCarthy

          Yup. So many self-professed environmentalists in Westport are turning a blind eye to what will be the biggest destruction of open space in Westport in 50 years. The environmental carnage that Gordon’s pet project will unleash is tragic. And no one seems to care.

          • John McCarthy

            The destruction of open space at BS will dwarf what is being done at Mahackeno. The so called environmentalists who support the clear cutting of Baron’s South will not be credible when they complain about future projects on environmental or Open Space grounds.

            • Bart Shuldman

              Thank you. All the talk of open space and knocking new houses and then we see the same supporting Barons South.

  6. Bart Shuldman

    Why don’t we start a competition to guess who the ‘secret’ person is? I have my idea. Anyone care to join in?

    Maybe the person will Not ‘bear’ the thought and announce.

  7. While I am not interested in blaming Mahackeno for the bear visiting town, Bart is simply trolling. I would suggest that nobody acknowledge him and he will disappear.

    Was there a sighting today? Of the bear, not the troll.

  8. David Stalling

    If folks want to learn about bears, and the relationship between bears and humans (and how to live safely with bears) I suggest they talk to state and federal wildlife biologists.

    Bears were once eradicated from Connecticut but have been growing in numbers since the 1980s — primarily because of abandoned farmlands returning to more wooded conditions. It’s normal for young bears in particular to expand out and seek new territories. And yes, bears do also sometimes move out of their range when their habitat is altered, such as is going on along the Merritt Parkway and Camp Mahackeno. If there is good habitat elsewhere, they often find it, settle in, and keep to themselves. It’s rare for bears to be aggressive towards humans.

    Here in Missoula, Montana, we often have black bears wandering in along the edge of town, and it’s not uncommon to occasionally see signs of grizzlies. (It’s one of the reasons Missoula is affectionately known as “Zoo Town.”) Residents here, for the most part, have learned to happily live with bears and share the land by making simple accommodations such as having “bear-proof” garbage containers, keeping bird feeders empty during certain times of year and not growing fruit and berry-bearing trees and shrubs in their yards.

    I’m glad parts of Connecticut now sustain healthy populations of bears — it’s a sign of restoring good wildlife habitat. Citizens should learn all they can about these magnificent animals and do what they can to give them the space and respect they need and deserve.

    I was taught that Compo is a native word meaning “where the bears feed.” Welcome home!

  9. Black bears have been seen in Weston for the past few years, so little wonder one found his way into Westport. And why not? We have luxe garbage from Balducci’s, Fresh Market and Whole Foods. If I were a bear, I’d be foraging here too! But kidding aside, the “mysterious reader” makes good points about deforestation. Every time we clear cut the land, we’re destroying the homes of countless critters and displacing them. There’s only so much open space left here, and as we destroy more, more animals will end up in our own backyards.

  10. i can’t help but wonder if this all might have just been a promotion for that wine and spirits store at the corner of Post Road West and Slyvan.

    • David Stalling

      Or perhaps the poor bruin got confused when it stumbled upon the Tiburon while looking for for the Three Bears.

      • Andy Yemma

        Good thought Dave but FYI Tiburon didn’t make it after Three Bears closed. Not sure it ever opened at all. Building sat empty for a couple or three years. Now occupied by Chabad Lubavitch congregatation.

        • David Stalling

          Yikes! I am apparently out of touch. Me and that bear are both confused! Three Bears is where I went on my first real date, for the Long Lots Holly Ball, back in the day!

  11. january stewart

    I just saw a fox crossing Compo south about an hour ago, right at Longshore! It was carrying some type of “kill” in it’s mouth. I slowed down to let it cross, and when I got closer, and saw what it was, and what it had in it’s mouth, it made me think of your post about the bear, Dan. Wild!

    • mary hoffman

      I have a very little dog, how big was the “kill” that got killed? I live off of Compo South, a red fox is not an unusual sight.

      • Elisabeth Rose

        I don’t believe foxes kill small dogs. They are more interested in vermin. But coyotes, on the other hand…