Bill would change hunting laws for bears in Grand Strand, Pee Dee

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – South Carolina lawmakers and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources want to make it easier for more hunters to kill bears in areas in the Pee Dee and along the Grand Strand.

A bill passed on Wednesday aims to change the hunting laws.

“There is an issue in our part of the state with a significant black bear population that continues to grow,” said Horry County Representative, Alan Clemmons, who introduced the bill.

Currently, DNR holds a yearly lottery where hunters can sign up and a certain amount of randomly selected hunters are able to get a bear tag. This allows them to hunt coastal bears during the fall season.

“However, that lottery hunt has not proved to be a successful endeavor over the last three years,” said Rep. Clemmons. “DNR has reported there have only been three bears harvested over the last three years.”

The bill would eliminate the lottery and therefore allow most hunters to participate in the hunt. Wildlife Biologist with SCDNR, Charles Ruth, said it’s a good idea.

“What this bill will do, is it will eliminate the requirement to have that draw hunt,” Ruth explains. “It will allow hunters in general in your area to purchase a bear tag, a bear tag is required, then DNR will set the season dates. We will also set a quota on the number of bears that could potentially be harvested.”

If the quota is met the season ends.

“The goals of this are number one, to adequately manage that bear population,” said Ruth. “And trying to moderate the few bear-vehicle collisions and you have some of the nuisance complaints with bears getting into trash cans.”

In response to the bill, South Carolina Environmental Law Project Executive Director, Amy Armstrong, sent a statement that reads in part:

A significant basis for the challenge to the International Drive road project was that it falls squarely within habitat that supports an important and viable black bear population.  Constructing a road right through this habitat will only exacerbate concerns raised in the article because it will diminish habitat quality, increasing competition for good foraging opportunities, and the development that will be facilitated by the road will further limit and constrain bear habitat, forcing them into residential areas even more.  In addition, the road will allow vehicles to drive across known bear travel corridors, which will inevitably lead to an increase in bear-vehicular collisions.  

Even though we made these points repeatedly and consistently, Horry County maintained that the bear population had been wiped out as a result of the 2009 fire in the hearing before the Administrative Law Court on the International Drive dispute.  The article makes it even more publicly acknowledged that Horry County’s assertions are not true. 

The most effective way to prevent impacts between bears and automobiles is to avoid roads and development through black bear habitat. Otherwise, at a minimum, there should be a safe way for bears and other animals to cross the roads, through wildlife underpasses or overpasses. 

In the past week, many pictures have been posted to social media about bear sightings in the Barefoot area of North Myrtle Beach.

“I heard some noise in the woods,” said Steve Bridges, who lives in Barefoot. “I thought it was some deer and then it came back and it was a black bear, and I don’t know how much it weighed but it looked big.”

Bridges said people in the area often see bears and most have to lock up their trash and take in their bird feeders.

“I would assume they were getting into the bird feeders,” Bridges predicts. “We’ve had problems in the morning coming out and they were empty and needless to say we don’t have bird feeders anymore.”

The bill now goes to Governor Henry McMaster.