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July 13, 2009

Black bear sightings on the rise in South Carolina’s Piedmont

Several black bears have been sighted in Abbeville, McCormick, Edgefield, Greenwood and Saluda counties this spring. Biologists with the S.C. Natural Resources have tracked an increase in bear sightings in the area over the past few years, and they say this is likely to continue and increase over time.

Cory Drennan, a wildlife biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) based in Greenwood, said: “Bears were here in the Piedmont in the past and are making a comeback in South Carolina. They cause few problems as long people minimize food attractions around their houses.”
Breeding bear populations in South Carolina have long occurred in the mountains and upper coastal counties. The animals have expanded into new areas over the last few years. Sightings in the greater Anderson, Greenwood and McCormick areas are becoming regular, particularly during spring and summer. Statewide, bear reports have increased from 20 in 1990 to more than 500 annually in recent years. 

Simply seeing a bear is not cause for alarm and should be viewed as a positive experience. No one has been injured by a black bear in South Carolina in recorded history. Bears have a natural fear of people and will avoid people unless repeatedly tempted by food. Bears will naturally investigate food odors from sources such as garbage, pet food, grills and bird feeders. People often indirectly attract bears by leaving attractants in places easily accessible to bears. Removing any potential attractants is the best way to avoid problems with bears and other wildlife.  

Most bear problems in residential areas are temporary and usually occur in the spring and summer months. Between the times bears emerge from their dens and summer foods such as berries ripen, natural food supplies are low and not very nutritious. This causes bears to travel more in search of food. Breeding season occurs from June to August, and male bears tend to roam more in search of mates. And, during this same time period, young males are dispersing to new territories and often wander into residential areas. Usually, dispersing bears remain in an area less than two weeks.

Many citizens of South Carolina wish to see bears continue to thrive in the state. The challenge is to learn how problems with bears can be avoided in residential areas that are in or near bear habitat.
“Bears that concern citizens should be reported to DNR,” said Drennan. “We will investigate the report and work with folks to minimize problems. Bears are part of our natural heritage and we try to help people and bears co-exist.”

It is important to note that it is unlawful for any person to feed or entice with food any black bear or to hunt, take, or attempt to take a bear except during limited hunting season in the mountains. These laws are aimed at protecting both bears and humans.

South Carolina DNR has published a pamphlet, entitled “A Homeowner’s Guide: Living with Bears,” that provides useful information on black bear natural history and ways to avoid “problems” with them. The pamphlet is available at DNR offices and online.

South Carolina's natural resources are essential for economic development and contribute nearly $30 billion and 230,000 jobs to the state's economy. Find out why Life's Better Outdoors.

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