Bear activists will pursue stricter laws

The Superior Court approval of accelerated rehabilitation for the alleged Wilton bear poacher will not quiet area animal activists.

Despite what was a disappointing end of the case for local and state animal rights protesters, who had held signs outside the Norwalk courthouse on every court date for those charged in the killing of two black bears, their work will continue at the state level.

“Over the years, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has made no effort to increase poaching penalties, which are unacceptably weak, and we hope to increase penalties for poaching this legislative session, but more importantly, we hope to block DEEP’s efforts to allow trophy hunting of bears. Our bear population, estimated to be only 500 to 700 statewide, is far too low to sustain trophy hunting,” said Annie Hornish, state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

Also, science shows that public education is effective in resolving human-bear conflicts, and science also shows that bear hunting does not resolve human-bear conflicts, Hornish said.

“Educating the public involves simply teaching people how to remove attractants, like accessible garbage, open food left outside, and spilled bird feeders. People also need to be educated on common-sense measures if they encounter bears, like keeping your dog on a leash, making noise when hiking to scare bears away like blowing a whistle, and if you see a bear, don’t run, but back away slowly,” Hornish said.

Marguerite Tucker O’Connor of Wilton, who helped lead the local protest and ordered many of the printed signs, said she will join Hornish at the state level.

“I imagine we will go up to Hartford when the proposed hunting bill gets presented. I think that is the plan,” O’Connor told The Bulletin.

A Superior Court judge in Norwalk Jan. 10 granted alleged bear poacher Antonio Lio of Wilton accelerated rehabilitation, a pre-trial intervention program that will place him on probation for two years, after which his record will be expunged.

Lio, 28, must avoid further arrests for the next two years and his hunting license will be suspended for the duration.

He must also perform 40 hours of public service within the next year, according to the ruling by Judge Alex Hernandez.

He was facing two counts of illegal taking of black bear and one count of fourth-degree negligent hunting.

Last Sept. 16, officers from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Environmental Conservation (EnCon) Police responded to a report of a bear killing in Wilton. They found Lio exiting the woods allegedly carrying a bear skin, head and paws stored in his backpack. He was accompanied by a Norwalk man who later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit illegal taking of black bear, and subjected himself to the maximum penalty, a $500 fine.