Connecticut Couple Can No Longer Bear Wild Animal Snapping Photos on Their Property
A Connecticut husband and wife claim in a lawsuit that a bear with a camera is violating their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. They want the state to stop it.
Mark and Carol Brault allege that the state attached the camera to the bear that has gone onto their property and taken photos of the interior of their home in West Hartland. They maintain the wild animal’s actions amount to “warrantless photographic surveillance” of the interior of their home on their 114 acre property.
In their complaint against the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the Braults allege that DEEP has tagged and placed cameras on bears in their area, including one known as Bear 119 which they observed on May 20 on their property with a video camera on its collar. Mark Brault took a photograph of the bear with his own camera.
“I have known that bear for a long time,” Brault says in an accompanying affidavit. He said the bear frequents their property and adjacent properties.
The Braults say they never gave the state permission to enter their property and the state never notified them that bears it knows frequent their property have been tagged and equipped with video surveillance equipment.
The lawsuit seeks a prospective injunction against the state requiring it to remove the cameras from all tagged bears within 10 miles of their property and to destroy all photographs.
Asked for comments including whether the state is responsible for the camera, DEEP declined to comment.
But bear with this story. There’s more.
DEEP has made it clear that the state is experiencing a surge in bear-human interactions. “Human-bear conflicts are increasing – both in frequency and severity,” said DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes in April in a warning to residents as part of of a “Bear Aware” public education program.
According to DEEP’s research, in Connecticut in 2022, two humans were attacked by bears, and bears entered people’s homes 67 times, surpassing the previous record of 45. These numbers are way up from seven years ago when fewer than 10 home entries were reported every year.
As part of its campaign, DEEP has been urging residents not to feed bears as that only encourages bears to enter properties and leads to more conflicts.
“Black bears should never be fed – either intentionally or unintentionally. Bears that are attracted to homes by easily accessible foods lose their fear of humans,” explained Jenny Dickson, DEEP Wildlife Division director. “Bears that are rewarded by easy meals spend more time in neighborhoods and near people, increasing risks to public safety, the likelihood of property damage, and the possibility that the bears may be hit and killed by vehicles. It is up to all of us to help prevent bears from learning bad behavior.”
There is a bill that has been pending in the legislature for a few years to prohibit “the intentional and unintentional feeding” of potentially dangerous wildlife such as bears. Violators could be fined up to $90. DEEP supports the bill.
Meanwhile, several municipalities have adopted their own ordinances banning the intentional feeding or baiting of bears.
This is not the first time the Braults and the government have wrestled over bears. Their own town has accused Mark Brault of running an illegal business that invites customers to view bears and bobcats on his property in violation of zoning laws and of violating the town’s ordinance against feeding bears. According to Brault’s affidavit, DEEP has been a participant in proceedings against him.
State records show that the business, Nature Havens, has been dissolved and the website appears to be down. Final briefs in the town’s case against Nature Havens and the Braults were submitted last week.
As for the alleged bear photos, DEEP acknowledges in its “Living With Black Bears” companion website that the state puts tracking collars and tags on bears. Tags and collars help biologists locate a bear and track bear movements and health. However, the site makes no mention of outfitting bears with cameras.
Bears have been in the news in Connecticut. Last month a bear was caught breaking into multiple homes in Salisbury and another bit a woman who was walking her dog. Last week, a bear broke into a garage in Hartland, attempting to get to a grill in the garage that had been used earlier in the day.
Then there is the bear that came upon bakery workers loading a delivery van in Avon and helped itself to 60 cupcakes. That encounter was caught on camera. The reports did not indicate if the camera was on the bear.
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