The state’s chief black bear biologist said that people living in bear country must learn to either put away their garbage or invest in bear-proof garbage containers, especially as the poor fall acorn crop means that many more bears are looking for food in places other than the forest.
"People who live in bear country need to be diligent about putting away their garbage and making their places bear-proof," said Skip Still, black bear biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) based in Clemson.
This year has already been a record one for bear complaints, according to Still. Numerous bear complaints have been received in the mountain counties of Greenville, Pickens and Oconee, and also in Anderson, Spartanburg and other counties. Many of the incidents directly related to bears raiding garbage cans looking for food. Numerous complaints have also been received on damage to crops and beehives.
The hard mast production of white oaks, red oaks, chestnut oaks and hickories was down considerably this year over last year, Still said. What this means is lots less food available for black bears in the forest. So they’re coming out of the woods, and looking for easy targets like garbage cans. Bear populations are also expanding in numbers and range.
A homeowner’s guide to living with bears was recently published by DNR, offering handy tips for homeowners to bearproofing their property. Authored by Deanna Ruth, a DNR wildlife biologist based at Samworth Wildlife Center in Georgetown County, "A Homeowner’s Guide: Living with Bears" offers common-sense rules to homeowners that will help them avoid unpleasant encounters with Ursus americanus, the black bear. The bear brochure also details some interesting natural history information on this often-feared and frequently misunderstood wildlife species.
To obtain a copy of the homeowner’s guide to living with bears brochure, visit the DNR offices in Clemson, Georgetown or Florence, or call the Columbia DNR office at (803) 734-3886.
What attracts bears into a residential area? Often, houses are located near areas already occupied by bears. Bears will naturally investigate food odors and are attracted to many different foods such as garbage, birdseed and suet, pet foods, compost piles, and grease on barbecue grills. Bear have a very keen since of smell. Once a bear receives a "reward," such as one of these foods, it may return to the same area several times (even after food is removed) or search around the general area for similar foods. Some bears become fairly tolerant of humans in these situations and appear tame. Remember, Still said, bears are wild animals and are unpredictable. Therefore, the solution to most bear problems is to remove the source of attraction before conflicts occur. In South Carolina, it is illegal to entice bears by any means. The law states that you must take away the attractants when bears are coming to your yard.
"People often ask us, 'Why not just move problem bears?'" Still said. "There are several reasons why moving problem bears is not an option. First and foremost, moving a bear does not address the problem. If the problem is not fixed, other bears will move in to take advantage of the food source, or the bear that was moved may return to become a problem once more. Second, catching a wild animal such as a bear puts both bears and people at risk of injury, especially in residential areas. Third, most people wish to keep bears as a viable species in South Carolina, and if bear and humans are going to coexist, human attitudes and habits must change. After all, humans are at the top of the food chain. Finally, there are no longer areas that are sufficiently remote to ensure that a relocated bear would not encounter other residences and possibly become a nuisance there."
So how are bear problems best handled? Many things can be done to minimize or eliminate the chances that bears will get into garbage or become a problem in an area. Any of the methods described below work best if implemented as soon as the problem starts, or better still, before problems occur. Once a bear establishes a feeding pattern, it will take longer to encourage the bear to move on. By following some of the tips listed below, residents can usually prevent the bear from being rewarded the first time.
Black bears once roamed the entire state of South Carolina and most of North America. Due to a number of factors, resident bear populations are found only in the mountains and upper coastal counties of South Carolina.
"Black bears are an important part of South Carolina’s natural heritage," Still said. "As people move into bear country in increasing numbers, it is ultimately human attitudes toward bears that will determine whether bears will continue to exist in the state. Unfortunately, bears are viewed either as dangerous animals or cuddly pets. It is best to avoid these extreme views and instead show a healthy respect for this magnificent forest animal. The DNR has provided some simple, common sense steps you can take to do your part in ensuring that bears and people can live together. As a temporary or permanent resident in bear country, take these steps to avoid attracting bears and to prevent conflicts from occurring. Remember, prevention is the best medicine!"
DNR protects and manages South Carolina’s natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state’s natural resources and its people.