State developing plan to manage black bears

2011-09-12T06:15:00Z State developing plan to manage black bearsBy GENE ZALESKI, T&D Staff Writer The Times and Democrat
September 12, 2011 6:15 am  • 

Earlier this year, a father and daughter were playing tennis in Holly Hill when a furry, four-legged visitor strolled across the park.

The two watched in astonishment as a big black bear came out from the woods, heading toward a residential area.

Three years ago, a black bear was seen in the town of Branchville, hanging out in a backyard.

According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, in Orangeburg and Calhoun counties the black bear is considered transient, only passing through on its way to more hospitable and bear-friendly environs, specifically the Upstate and coast.

"In Orangeburg there are not many bear contacts," SCDNR spokesman Brett Witt said. "You might see two or three a year, usually not more than three. That would be a fairly busy year."

Bamberg County is the only county in the state with no documented bear sightings. Still, Witt said it would be safe to say that bears have been in every county.

"Outside of their home territory, it is possible to see them ... anywhere," Witt said. "Bears wander. That is what they do. You will have a greater possibility of seeing them in a rural area."

DNR officials say with an increasing bear population statewide and land use and habitat changes, human and bear contacts are increasing, so DNR is creating a Black Bear Management and Conservation Strategy.

The state's bear population is estimated to be about 1,120, with about 900 in the Upstate. The number of black bear sightings peaked around 2007 and 2008.

Witt said with more and more folks moving into bear country, DNR has found it crucial to learn how to handle these contacts.

"We want to let the bear go out and do the bear thing," he said.

A primary objective of the plan is to maintain South Carolina's bear population at a level compatible with land-use goals and acceptable human social limits, Witt said.

The management and conservation plan reviews DNR's past bear management efforts, state and regional bear population trends and current management techniques. Additionally, the plan lists black bear conservation goals and objectives, along with strategies to attain the desired outcome.

Witt said the most important thing for people to remember is to respect the bear.

"They are fairly large animals," he said. "Even though we don't have any record of a bear attacking any people, they are wild animals."

Witt said people are encouraged to use common sense by securing their trash cans and outdoor grills, and reducing the amount of bird seed they put out.

Bear hunting is allowed only in the mountains and only for the third and fourth weeks in October.

Contact the writer: gzaleski@times or 803-533-5551.


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