DNR Offers Guidelines for Dealing with Bears

The number of "nuisance" bear reports along the coast each spring and summer to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources seems on the increase, and the agency is now issuing guidelines on how state residents can avoid misadventures with these usually harmless, but curious mammals.

Photograph of Bear in Drain Pipe

As the human population continues to increase on the coast and development encroaches on bear habitat, the public will be more likely to see bears. The key to coexisting with bears is understanding and respecting them, and following the rules and regulations aimed to protect the public and bears. Black bears are usually shy, evasive and non-aggressive toward people. There has never been a human fatality or even an attack attributed to a black bear in South Carolina. Only two human fatalities attributed to bears have occurred in the last 100 years in the eastern US.

The coastal black bear population, centered in Horry and Georgetown counties, has already begun its wanderlust searching for fruits and berries. It’s this time of year when the bears’ movements sporadically bring them into contact with the public. "Food is scarce during the winter months and the new spring growth has bears on the move trying to pack on a few pounds," said Jamie Dozier, unit wildlife biologist for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) based in Georgetown. This movement produces bear sightings by the public. "People unfamiliar with bear ways are now settling in the middle of bear habitat and often complain of too many bears," Dozier says. "The problem is not too many bears—it’s too little bear habitat."

The mere presence of a black bear does not necessarily represent a problem. Most are just passing through, but if there is an easy meal lying around, they will take advantage of it. The key to dealing with bears is not giving them a reason to hang around. Store pet food indoors and keep garbage securely contained. If your neighborhood has open dumpsters, encourage managers to install locking lids. "If you feed a bear, either on purpose or accidentally, that's when they begin to hang around on a regular basis," Dozier said. "A wild bear is very wary of man and usually no threat at all, but a bear that has been fed can lose that natural fear." It is unlawful to feed bears in South Carolina, and violators can be prosecuted.

The increased movement can be detrimental to bears. With some regularity, bears fall victim to highway collisions, particularly as more roads are built and more cars utilize existing roads. According to Dozier, at least 25 bears were killed on Horry County and Georgetown County roads in 2003. If you hit a bear or see one that has been hit by a car, please call your local DNR office or the DNR Radio Room in Columbia, which is toll-free and available 24-hours-a-day at 1-800-922-5431. Remember that it is illegal to possess or remove any part of a bear so do not attempt to pick up a dead animal.

"Just use common sense if you encounter a bear," Dozier said. "If you move away slowly and make it aware of your presence with a calm, assertive voice, it will likely make a run for the nearest woods." Do not run from the bear or climb a tree.  In the rare instance that the bear follows you face the bear and walk slowly backwards. Do not make eye contact.  Make yourself look as big as possible and make as much noise as possible.  

DNR offers these common sense suggestions to cope with bears:

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