SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The message from Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) biologists and Conservation Police Officers (CPOs) is clear: Leave the black bear currently passing through western Illinois alone.
IDNR biologists and CPOs have been closely monitoring the bear since it crossed into Illinois from Wisconsin June 10. The bear then crossed into Iowa and came back into Illinois in southern Rock Island County June 18. Since then, then bear has traveled through northwestern Illinois mostly unbothered until it passed through northwest Henderson County Father’s Day weekend, where more than 300 people gathered to view, follow and harass the bear. It was last seen June 21 headed south toward Stronghurst in southern Henderson County.
"For the most part, we’ve not seen conflicts between the public and bear until recently and, unfortunately, those conflicts were caused entirely by people," said Stefanie Fitzsimons, district wildlife biologist, IDNR. "It’s a novelty to see a bear in Illinois, and people want to see it for themselves, but they must remember that the outcome for this bear – whether IDNR must step in and take action to protect public safety – is completely dependent on how the public react to it. If the bear is left alone, it can continue its journey safely on its own."
Fitzsimons said the bear is likely just passing through the state looking for a mate and won’t stay long because Illinois doesn’t provide appropriate habitat for an animal that big. The most important thing to remember if people spot the bear is that it’s a wild animal and should be treated as such. In fact, Fitzsimons added, people should stay at least 100 yards away from the bear and enjoy watching it from a distance.
Black bears are native to Illinois’ neighboring states and were common in Illinois when settlers arrived but disappeared by the mid-1880s. They are now protected by the Illinois Wildlife Code and may not be hunted, killed or harassed unless there is an imminent threat to person or property.
"Certainly, the more pressure is put on the bear, the more likely we’ll see an adverse outcome," said Captain Laura Petreikis, Illinois Conservation Police. "As is always the case, we want to ensure the safety of both people and animals. If we continue to see situations like we saw this past weekend, Conservation Police will issue tickets and make arrests to ensure the safety of both the public and the bear."
If members of the public spot the bear, they’re encouraged to contact their local CPO or law enforcement agency. For additional information and safety tips, visit https://bebearaware.org.