black bear looks toward camera in forest

South Carolina legislators want hunters to kill more bears near tourist-jammed Myrtle Beach to reduce conflicts between people and the big animals.

The Legislature is close to approving a bill that would allow virtually anyone wanting to kill a black bear to get state approval during the fall hunting season in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties.

Under the current system, the state holds a drawing to see who gains the right to hunt bears – but that has limited the number of hunters needed to adequately cull the bear population, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. The new plan would provide approvals, or tags, to most people who sign up. Lawmakers hope that will encourage more bear hunting during the season on the coast.

“If we don’t harvest them, they get out in the road, and they get hit and they become nuisances,’’ state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said during a Senate committee meeting Wednesday. “There’s a lot of reasons to have management by harvest.’’

In the six years since the state legalized bear hunting near Myrtle Beach, hunters have killed 13 black bears total. Last fall, only three bears were killed, wildlife officials said. The state needs to kill about 30 a year to keep the population in check, according to the DNR. There has not been “enough harvest to manage the population,’’ said Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston.

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