Barefoot Resort residents warned about bear sightings

A warning has gone out to North Myrtle Beach residents. Bear sightings are up at Barefoot Resort and wildlife officers with the SC Department of Natural Resources think they know why.

While Barefoot Resort residents are used to hearing about bear sightings, the city's Department of Public Safety was concerned enough about bears to send out an alert Sunday night and the homeowners association is advising people to take precautions.

Ernie Walters, who lives on Marsh Glen Dr. in Barefoot Resort, sees bear activity in his backyard on practically a weekly basis: bird feeders broken and bear tracks around his trees. Bears got into his garbage can so many times that he put locks and chains on the lid and they still broke into it.

Even with all that, he's not too concerned about the bears.

"They're pretty much as scared of us as we are of them," Walters said.

When it comes to bears, the only thing the Walters do worry about is their two little Shih Tzu dogs.

"When it's after dark, we always have them on a leash, so they can't get away from us. I think if you're just diligent, you should be safe," he said.

Jeff Wicker wasn't too worried about bears, either, until the night in 2006 when a bear broke into his house and carried away his poodle.

"We never saw the bear or the dog again," Wicker said.

But Wicker thinks that bear encounter was a rare occurrence, and now, about the only advice he has for neighbors is, don't leave dog food outside at night and just leave the bears alone.

"I think if you don't mess with them, they won't mess with you."

DNR wildlife biologist Deanna Ruth said the bears are just looking for food and they're finding it in the acorns that drop from the oak trees that line many of the streets at Barefoot.

Ruth said as long as the acorns are there, the bears will be there. Still, the homeowners association is telling residents there are things they can do things to keep bear visits to a minimum. That includes bringing in pet food at night and not leaving bird feeders out when bears are active.

"We tell people not to put the garbage cans out the night before. We tell them the next morning, because most of the bears' activity is in the evening," said homeowners association president Dave Jenkins.

Jenkins also advises people to watch out for a mother bear that has cubs.

"That's one thing that we warn people about. Don't mess with mama and her cubs, because mama has no patience with anybody who gets between her and the cubs."

Ruth said black bears aren't known to be as aggressive as brown bears or grizzlies, but that doesn't mean you should approach one.

She said in a couple of weeks the acorns will be gone and bear sightings at Barefoot should go down.

A recent study shows there may be as many as 800 black bears along coastal South Carolina.

South Carolina's coastal bear hunting season is December 1-15.