Summer means black bears are on the move along Grand Strand

Don’t be surprised if that dark shape in the distance turns out to be a black bear.

And don’t panic. More on that later.

Bears are most active at this time of year, and that, combined with habitat depletion, makes it more likely for humans to encounter them, and vice versa, said Kayla Brantley, a bear biologist with DNR based in Horry County.

“They are emerging from their dens and out looking for food,” she said. “Also, the peak of their breeding season is June, July, sometimes early August.”

A S.C. Department of Natural Resources official said it’s not a surprise that a bear was recently spotted crossing a street near homes off S.C. 905 near S.C. 22.

The bear was seen crossing the road on Royals Circle, a wooded area that backs up to the Waccamaw River off S.C. 905. Photojournalist Tom Murray spotted the bear near his house and captured the photo. It was the first sighting in the area for Murray, or his wife, Carolyn Callison Murray, editor of The Sun News, since moving to the community about 18 months ago.

Brantley said about 80 percent of a bear’s diet consists of berries, nuts and plants while the other 20 percent includes insects and meats.

She said she receives several calls about bears that typically involve a bear spotted in a yard, agriculture field or crossing a highway.

“Bears are being seen because of the loss of habitat and food resources, which is pushing them to move and look elsewhere,” Brantley said.

As a result of the habitat depletion, Brantley said the bear population is expanding in Horry County and so are the human-bear encounters. But, she said there are no documented black bear attacks in the state.

Sightings should be reported to DNR which is using the data to determine if and where the bear population is expanding and to help manage the black bear population, Brantley said.

The possibility of seeing a bear will continue into late fall, Brantley said, as bears search for food before winter.

In Tennessee, rangers have closed some popular hiking trails due to black bears feeding in the area.

A statement from the National Park Service says there are at least 12 bears feeding on ripe cherries in the Gregory Bald area, and that has led to several close encounters between bears and hikers. The closed areas include Gregory Bald Trail and Wolf Ridge Trail from Parson Bald to Gregory Bald.

The statement says the trails will be closed until the bears disperse, which is expected to happen after they’ve depleted the food source.

If you encounter a bear, don’t panic. But don’t try to run or climb a tree, either, Brantley said.

Instead, stand upright, back up slowly and speak in a calm and assuring voice.

And never get between a mother and her cubs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.