Can Illinois manage bears?
Are Momma Bear and Baby Bear wandering through Bureau County?
Many are eager to know in the wake of a reported sighting last Saturday by the Bureau County Sheriff’s Department.
After responding to calls from residents, Deputy Sheriff Sherry Barto watched through binoculars what she thought was an adult black bear and cub moving from a field into brush near Tiskilwa.
Since Saturday nobody has reported seeing the bears again.
And the Illinois Department of Natural Resources appears somewhat skeptical, though the agency did dispatch a conservation police officer on Wednesday.
“The (DNR) has not been able to confirm it,” said Januari Smith, spokesperson for the DNR. “We did have an officer in the field in the area where we got the sighting from and we were unable to see any signs or evidence of the bear.
“But we have had a few bears in Illinois in the past and we can’t completely rule it out.”
If that sounds like a lukewarm response, well don’t be surprised.
The DNR fields numerous false reports of bears, cougars and wolves every year.
But there’s another reality here, too. Finding a female bear and cub would put more pressure on the DNR to establish management policies.
At present, bears are not considered indigenous to the state and are not covered by the wildlife code. That’s true even though two bears were confirmed in Illinois last year — one captured in February in Bureau County and another that passed through JoDaviess and Stephenson counties in June.
When the Bureau County bear was trapped and sent to Woody’s Menagerie in Bond County (a questionable move that merits more explanation), the DNR was said to be pondering protection for bears, mountain lions and wolves.
The idea was not to classify them as endangered, but rather to avoid random killings. To my knowledge, little progress has been made on that front.
That’s a mistake.
Bears are steadily moving south in Wisconsin and their next logical move is obvious. Our DNR would be wise to anticipate that, not react once it happens.
Why? To protect the critters, for one thing. But also because waiting until somebody shoots a female bear could handcuff the DNR in terms of management options.
Consider the river otter. While otter numbers have soared and otters now create problems for landowners, no politician has the guts to back a trapping bill. That leaves the DNR with little control over otters.
Not that anyone expects Illinois to soon be overrun with bears. But whether there’s a bear and cub in Bureau County or not, there’s a larger issue here the DNR needs to address.