Letters to the Editor

Bears deserve protection on International Drive

By Rick Baumann

I remember, many years ago, when U.S. 17 Bypass was finally built, it was supposed to alleviate traffic jams in the Myrtle Beach area. This was accomplished – but it was extremely short-lived. Within months after opening, there were frontage roads and businesses being built with vigor. Originally built with no traffic lights, there are now more stop lights on the bypass than there are on old Business 17.

Depending on the season or time of day, it is now often faster going to and from Murrells Inlet and Myrtle Beach by taking the business road. I often find it faster to go to Myrtle Beach taking Business 17 to Ocean Boulevard where there are only three stoplights for its entire length. Yes, you must travel slowly, but there are no time-wrecking stoplights like those on the Bypass at 10th, 21st and 29th North.

I also remember guiding a hunting trip for George Martin (editor of the NRA’s American Hunter Magazine) back in the 1980s. I took him to task about his publication’s analysis which said there were only an estimated 36 bears living in the entire state of South Carolina. When I enlightened him to my experience hunting on the old Buist Tract, where I had seen evidence of quite a few more bears than the American Hunter estimated for our entire state, Mr. Martin bristled.

“If that is so” he said, “where are all the road kills?” I had no answers to that question then, because we had very few paved roads going through bear habitat. The only roadkill recorded was the massive “501 bear” killed near Wolverine Brass by a motorist from West Virginia – which continues to be on mounted display at the Horry County Museum.

Since the development of Carolina Forest – and the building of highways S.C. 22 and 31, however – there have been many dozens of roadkills recorded and reported by the news media. Perhaps conservation groups learned from this history – or perhaps, they should have objected to the building of these roads without wildlife tunnels all those years ago.

But now that they have objected to building a road without wildlife tunnels, in the case of International Drive, there is so much uproar that politicians in Columbia are scurrying to draft a bill eliminating the “automatic stay” - which gives the public oversight on poorly planned road projects and illegal developments. Removing the automatic stay would allow development to proceed with no public remedy for hastily planned or ill advised road projects and developments.

The public should take note (especially those who live near the proposed International Drive project) that they chose to live where they live with the existing roads that were there. They should also take note that Horry County’s request to pave that road into a five lane highway takes 22 acres from the public trust at Lewis Ocean Bay Reserve to do so – and that the county originally promised to build wildlife tunnels under that road.

The record shows that there have been quite a few more bears killed by motorists in the small area mentioned than have been killed by hunters during the very limited bear hunting seasons all combined. If the county had honored its initial promise, there would be no delays related to bear tunnels – and they would not be wasting tax dollars on legal fees and whining about conservation groups objecting to their arrogant position.

Perhaps they should stop the bleeding by reconsidering that position.

The writer lives in Murrells Inlet.