January 19, 2013

Life can get wild in Myrtle Beach area

Grand Strand residents share space with an assorted abundance of animals.

Drivers in Horry County must be wary of many things: detours, pets, children and geese. Sometimes it seems the geese population has bloomed enough to warrant its own political party.

But they aren’t the only critters sharing the Strand with the humans. There are the coyotes that put fear into the hearts of Surfside Beach residents over the summer, and the farmers in Georgetown County who worry about their crops being overtaken by black bears.

“The thing is, they didn’t move from 50 miles away. They’ve always been there. (You) just saw them,” said Jay Butfiloski, furbearer and alligator program coordinator with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Despite fears of coyotes or bears, the animals aren’t usually a threat to humans, although the waterfowl do create a hazard.

Geese and ducks leave droppings that increase fecal coliform bacteria in those bodies of water. If this count goes up in rivers or ponds, warnings are posted advising residents not to swim in or drink from that source.

Bufiloski says humans and animals can coexist Sometimes, it just requires a change in thinking, and more education.

Duck, duck, goose

In many neighborhoods, walkers or joggers can find themselves bypassing throngs of resident Canada geese, or the “surprises” they leave behind on the pavement. And golfers regularly must dodge their droppings.

Wayne Harris, with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Charleston office, said the Canada geese have become a nuisance across the country. They are prone to hang out in suburban areas and golf courses because there’s generally a water source and the animals feel safe because there aren’t hunters as there are in rural settings.

“The populations have just exploded in the past 10 to 15 years,” Harris said.

Just ask assistant golf pro Matt Lunden at Legends Golf Course. He said the birds don’t cause delays for golfers, but they’re a total nuisance for the groundskeepers.

“When geese are on the course, they just tear up the grass,” Lunden said.

The geese have been so bad in The Lakes subdivision near Murrells Inlet that residents have gotten help from the federal government.

Pat Keelan, a member of The Lakes’ homeowners association, said 12 federal officials come every June and load the geese into six trucks, with help from the neighbors.

The cost to The Lakes is $500 up front, and an additional $5 per bird, Keelan said.

In 2012, 55 geese were rounded up in The Lakes, Keelan said. That’s a massive jump from the zero collected in 2011.

“They must have read an email we were coming or something,” Keelan joked.

Federal officials euthanize the birds once they’re caught, Keelan added. The meat is donated, but he didn’t know to whom.

If neighborhoods don’t want to ask the federal government for help, there are some things they can do to run them off. Some use forms of harassment, like chasing the birds with their cars, Harris said. Pyrotechnics, like fireworks, are also effective.

Then there are dogs that can chase nuisance geese away, Harris added. Some people breed dogs strictly for this purpose.

What one can’t do to get rid of geese is shoot them, at least not without a permit from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources or Fish and Wildlife, Harris said. The animals are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

From the woods to the beach

Surfside Beach residents were alarmed when coyotes made their way into the beach community in late August.

There were so many complaints that Town Council members authorized Town Administrator Micki Fellner to spend up to $5,000 to help rid the community of the coyotes. They hired Alpha Predator out of Conway to try and trap the coyotes, which average 30 to 35 pounds.

Butfiloski said he hasn’t heard from Surfside Beach residents or Town Council members in a while about the issue.

“We haven’t had a sighting in several months,” said interim Surfside Beach Police Chief Rodney Keziah.

As to what could have drawn the coyotes to the area, Butfiloski points to sea turtles. Coyotes eat the eggs the giant turtles lay on the beach.

It’s also possible that a mother had given birth to pups somewhere nearby, he said. A coyote will hide out in a single place until its pups are old enough that they can run on their own. Once that happens, the family generally moves on.

the large green spaces found in neighborhoods and golf course that draw Canada geese also prove enticing for coyotes, as does the limited threat of predators, including hunters.

“They’re extremely adaptable to urban settings,” Butfiloski said.

From the subdivisions to the farms

Black bears seem to have moved from rummaging through people’s trash cans to foraging in peanut and wheat fields.

Deanna Ruth, with the SCDNR’s Georgetown office, said bears were spotted foraging in the field along U.S. 701 in Georgetown County.

Ruth said this is the first year black bears have been seen during the day foraging in agriculture fields. Generally, there’d be evidence left behind during the day of the animals pilfering in a farmer’s crops at night.

It appears bears are quite fond of peanuts, Ruth added, and more farmers are turning to peanut crops.

As farm sightings have gone up, residential sightings have gone down. Ruth said that could partially be explained by a door-to-door education initiative five years ago to educate Grand Strand residents on how to keep bears out of their neighborhoods.

That includes keeping any possible food sources inside.

Or, maybe people are still seeing the bears but not reporting the sightings.

“I think people have just gotten used to seeing them,” Ruth said.

It was this upswing in the bear population that led DNR to organize the first coastal black bear hunt in over 50 years in 2011.

The first two weeks of December are reserved for the hunt in Georgetown, Horry and Williamsburg counties. Ten hunting permits per county are awarded each year after interested parties pay a registration fee for a chance to harvest a black bear.

The bears evaded hunters in 2011 and 2012 hunts, however. No hunters reported a kill during the hunting seasons.

Still, it’s evident to DNR officials that bear activity along the Grand Strand is strong.

Ruth remembers a sighting last year in Garden City Beach. The animal stayed in the area for two nights.

“I guess he did some swimming. They’re very good swimmers,” she said.

A question of co-habitation

But how good are people at sharing space with wildlife?

Butfiloski said it really depends on an individual’s past. For instance, a person who grew up on a farm in the country might not think much about seeing a coyote in the back yard, versus someone who spent years living in a big city.

Also, one person may not mind geese droppings in their subdivsion, while the next-door neighbor might hit the roof.

“Is there a way to balance that out?” Butfiloski said.

In the end, it all comes down to changing habits. If a black bear is seen crossing the street, it could just be passing through the area and won’t become a nuisance.

However, if a nearby homeowner leaves pet food outside on a regular basis that attracts that bear, the animal might get the impression all the neighbors will do the same.

Simply seeing an animal is not necessarily a cause for concern.

For example, he said, an alligator spotted along the side of a bank near water when it’s 50 degrees out isn’t a threat; the animal is simply trying to warm itself on a cool day. A little bit of education, he added, can go a long way to smooth things over.

“What bothers me is not going to be what bothers you,” Butfiloski said.

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