COLUMBIA — Researchers with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and Clemson University completed the field work on a project that will yield important new information on the population of black bears in the South Carolina mountains.
The project title is: “Estimating Black Bear (Ursus americanus) population in the Mountains of South Carolina using DNA genetic analysis.”
The project leaders are Richard Morton and Tammy Wactor, wildlife biologists with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the project cooperator is Dr. Joe Clark of the University of Tennessee.
The objective of the study is to estimate the population of black bears in the Mountain Hunt Unit located in Black bear northern Oconee, Pickens and Greenville counties using DNA analysis and to use this information to improve bear management in the Upstate. The collection of data took place June through August 2013.
Black bears have historically ranged throughout the northern portions of Oconee, Pickens, and Greenville counties in the mountain region of South Carolina. Limited studies have been conducted in the region to estimate population size.
Over the past 10 years, the reports of bear sightings have greatly increased with many of those sightings outside the historic range. Black bear harvest numbers have also increased over the past 10 years.
These trends could mean the bear population is growing and expanding out of its historical range. Estimated current bear population in the mountain region is between 900 to 1,200 bears based on older studies and extrapolated over time.
For DNR to manage the black bear population in the Upstate through hunting and education, the state natural resources agency needs a better understanding of the population size and the potential of range expansion.
In June 2013, about 114 sampling sites were established across Oconee, Pickens, and Greenville counties based on specific criteria. Each sampling site consisted of two strands of barbed wire stretched around four trees.
An attractant, raspberry essence and Krispy Kreme donuts, was placed within the enclosure in a manner to ensure the bear crossed the barbed wire to reach it, snagging some hair on the barbs. Sampling sites were checked, attractant replenished and hair samples collected every seven days for eight weeks.
About 350 hair samples are now being analyzed at a genetics lab in Canada, which will help produce a black bear population estimate for the Upstate study area. Results from the samples are expected to be complete in Summer 2014.
Cooperators in the black bear study included U.S. Forest Service, University of Tennessee, Clemson University, Naturaland Trust, S.C. State Park Service, Krispy Kreme and private landowners.