It's one of those must- haves for the woodsy Lowcountry newcomer - "A Homeowner's Guide: Living with Bears."

The new state Department of Natural Resources brochure and online tip sheet includes priceless tips such as using an electric fence to protect the garbage cans, barbecue grill, bird feeder or pet food. It has timeless tidbits: " Black bears will sometimes ' bluff charge' when they are cornered, feel threatened, or when they are attempting to steal food. Stand your ground and then slowly back away."

Whoa, don't hyperventilate. This could be as handy as the Welcome Wagon bag or any guide to living with gators, snakes, hurricanes, earthquakes, spiders, chiggers and maybe- ormaybe- not panthers. There's nothing quite like dragging a bag full of scraps out to the carport trash can and finding a 300 pounder already clawing his way through it.

And they do. A woman in Awendaw looked out of her window to find a black bear staring back in 2004. A bear startled by daybreak traffic in downtown Andrews last year climbed a tree, then had to be spooked down by fireworks and tranquilized.

More than 200 black bears are estimated to live in the Lowcountry, most of them above the Santee River in Williamsburg, Georgetown and Horry counties. They have been spotted in 28 of the 46 counties in the state, including Berkeley, Charleston and Colleton - all the greater metro area counties except Dorchester.

Not that suburban Dorchester residents should tempt fate. It's spring and black bears have begun to forage while waiting for berries and other main foods to ripen. Wildlife agents get a handful of calls each year about young bears going to town.

"If a bear can fill his daily quota for calories in your garbage rather than spending hours foraging, that's what he'll do," said Deanna Ruth, Natural Resources wildlife biologist in Horry and Georgetown counties. The guide is another one of those user-friendly wildlife education tools.

"Anything you would do about a feral cat or dog, a raccoon, you need to do about bear too," Ruth said "A lot of residents are coming from urban areas. Somehow they don't make the connection."

Bears aren't anything new to Georgetown County farmer Eddie Munnerlyn , who talks about their tendency to scratch light poles like a cat. Timber cutting and other types of land clearing are driving more of them into development along the forest fringes, he said.

" They come across the field like a deer, sit down in the beans and eat all night. Wouldn't you?" he said. "You start feeding them and they get used to it." He keeps his garbage and other food sources out of reach and he's never had a problem. The bears just move on through. He's not so sure an electric fence would do much to stop a hungry bear.

But Ruth said the secret is the stinger. Beekeepers set the fences around hives with peanutbutter "stingers" baited at intervals. The bear starts to lick and gets the shock of its life.

" They are very effective," she said.

Reach Bo Petersen at 745-5852 or