During the Christmas season, the large tree near the front entrance to the offices of Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative in Pickens gets a lot of attention for the display of lights celebrating the holidays. On Tuesday afternoon, the tree got plenty of attention and excitement again. This time, it was because a bear was using the tree as a temporary residence.
“It certainly caused quite a bit of attention,” said Terry Ballenger, manager of communications at Blue Ridge. “Folks were in paying their bills and employees were talking about it. People were more curious and fascinated than they were afraid but they were keeping their distance. Someone said when they looked up at it from under the tree it was growling.”
The bear, a young female black bear weighing approximately 100 pounds, was first spotted running across the lawn of the property by a summer employee, according to Ballenger. It was not seen again until it was in the tree. Ballenger said it was the first time in the 42 years he has worked at Blue Ridge that he remembers a bear coming on the property, which is located at 734 West Main Street, about a half mile from downtown Pickens.
Pickens Chief of Police Rodney Gregory said his department responded and secured the scene when they arrived. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources was called in to remove the bear.
“Our main concern was safety,” Gregory said.
Once officials from the state Department of Natural Resources arrived, they took responsibility for getting the bear out of the tree and back into the mountains, according to Tammy Wactor, Wildlife Biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
“She was stuck in the tree because there was so much activity going on below,” said Wactor. “We darted her to get her out of the tree and moved her back up the mountain.”
Gregory said there have been other reports of bears in the city of Pickens in the past 10 years. Wactor said bears coming into the more populous areas are not that unusual.
“Bears are regularly in this area. In Pickens and Easley there are bears that come through on a regular basis.” said Wactor. “This time of year, young bears are close to town because their finding extra food sources to put on weight from the winter. They come in close to town a lot of times.
“Bears are a part of this habitat,” said Wactor. “We keep moving up into their area so our urbanization is encroaching onto their habitat. The thing people need to look out for is to make sure they secure their trash and if the bears are bothering their bird feeders they need to take them down.”
Wactor added that the proximity of the bear to people was the main reason for using a traquilizer.
“If it wasn’t on Main Street with a huge crowd of people standing underneath that tree, we would have just said to leave the bear alone,” said Wactor. “It will go up a tree because it feels safe. If it was further off in the area where there wasn’t a big crowd, that bear would have come down and moved on about its business. If you see a bear, you should be avoiding it.”