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August 14, 2008

Biologist: feeding bears is illegal, dangerous

The state wildlife agency's black bear biologist said that not only is feeding black bears dangerous and against the law, but it may doom the bear. Bears that learn to associate food with people may have to be destroyed.

A state law passed in 2000 prohibits feeding or enticing bears, and the law carries penalties of up to $500 or 30 days in prison.

"If you feed a bear, either on purpose or accidentally, then they come to associate man with food, and that creates most of our bear problems," said Skip Still, S.C Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife biologist and head of the DNR's Black Bear Project based at the Clemson DNR office. "A wild bear is normally wary of man and usually no threat at all, but a bear that has been fed has lost that natural fear, and it's less likely to be afraid of people."

A recent case of someone feeding marshmallows to bear cubs led to a bear coming into a tent in search of more food. The campground was closed, and the bear left the area before being trapped. Still cites numerous cases of people intentionally feeding bears for photography, to show others or just because they wanted to see the bears. "By feeding the bear, you are not only putting yourself in danger but also others who are not aware of what you are doing," Still said. "You are also putting the bear in danger. It is illegal and unethical to feed bears."

No one has been injured by a black bear in South Carolina in recorded history, and only two deaths to humans have been attributed to bears in the Southeast during the last 100 years. People often feed bears indirectly by leaving trash, pet food, and other enticing items in places easily accessible to bear. Simply observing a bear walking through a yard is not cause for alarm and should be viewed as a positive experience. Make sure all garbage is stored away, and that other food sources such as dog food and bird seed are removed, and do not provoke or feed the bear. Alert others in the area and request that everyone follow the same procedures.

Both human and bear populations are growing and expanding in South Carolina. Since 2004, bear have been spotted in 36 counties. Still said people must learn to practice common sense concerning waste materials, pet and livestock food and other attractants to bear and other wildlife. "It is in no one's interest to invite wildlife into their backyards that can carry rabies and other diseases," he said.
           
A homeowner's guide to living with bears has been published by DNR, offering handy tips for peacefully co-existing with these fascinating mammals. "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 regional offices in Clemson, Georgetown or Florence, or call the Columbia DNR office at (803) 734-3886.

"Many people in South Carolina want to see bears continue to thrive in the state," Still said. "Therefore, the challenge is to learn how problems with bears can be avoided. Bears can learn to live with people, but the bears' future will simply be determined by if people can learn to live with bears."

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.


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