Illinois has placed three more wild animals on its list of state-protected animals, with all of those animals reportedly having made appearances in Bureau County.
The American black bear, gray wolf and cougars/mountain lions will soon be included in the list of state-protected animals in Illinois.
In a statement issued Thursday, Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Director Marc Miller said a new law, signed by Gov. Pat Quinn and becoming effective Jan. 1, gives the IDNR the authority to manage these species for the protection of both wildlife and the public. An animal under the protection of the state means residents can’t kill the animal unless there is an immediate threat to lives and property.
Miller said the gray wolf, American black bear and cougars/mountain lions were present in the state when the settlers arrived, but were all but gone from the state by the mid-1800s. Due to improved legal protections and habitat restoration, these species are returning to some of their former ranges.
“Wolves, mountain lions and black bears have been absent from Illinois for more than 150 years. As the populations of these animals continue to grow, we expect to see occasional individuals dispersing from their current ranges into Illinois,” Miller said.
On Thursday, Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson said he has no problem at all with the new law, nor with the idea of these animals being seen more and more in Illinois. Bureau County, as well as other rural counties, have already witnessed this, he said.
In June 2008, a black bear was spotted near Sheffield, with at least two more confirmed sightings before the bear was found hibernating seven months later and captured near Neponset. In May 2010, there was a bear and cub sighting between Tiskilwa and Princeton.
Cougar sighting have also been reported in Bureau County, most recently in March near Bureau. Bureau County definitely has its wolves, though he’s not sure of the specific species of wolf, Thompson said.
Though these animals may be seen more in the future, they are timid animals when it comes to people, at least in most cases, the sheriff said.
“However, there is the exception to the rule. In the spring of the year, when the animals have their young, they can become very protective. Bears in particular may be volatile if they have a cub,” he said.
As he has said before, his recommendation, if someone would come across a wild animal, is to not try to get closer, but to turn and walk away, Thompson said.
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