Many of us are familiar with the phrase “Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!,” immortalized by the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz, but many Stateline residents may have been using a slightly different phrase to understand the seemingly abrupt return of some apex predators to the state.
Recently, an American Black Bear was spotted in Winnebago and Dekalb Counties in Illinois, and a Mountain Lion was spotted in Rock County in Wisconsin.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s many apex predators, like Mountain Lions, Bobcats, American Black Bears, and Grey Wolves, were extirpated from Illinois and Wisconsin because they posed a threat to farm animals and families as farm towns spread and the population grew. Now these animals have regained an ecological foothold in many neighboring states (including Wisconsin) and are starting to return to Illinois in the search for territories and resources. Since 2000 at least seven Grey Wolves, three Mountain Lions, and three Black Bears have had confirmed sightings in Illinois.
This return is exciting to some, and scary to others but it is not unanticipated. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) has been conducting research and planning for the return or reintroduction of apex predators since the early 2000’s. A bill adding Grey Wolves, American Black Bears, and Mountain Lions to the Illinois Wildlife Code was passed by the Illinois House and Senate as of May 30, 2014. Their addition will provide them basic protections in Illinois which will allow these species the opportunity to re-establish viable populations in the state. One of the primary points of protection that the Illinois Wildlife Code provides is that these animals cannot be shot on sight unless a person (or their property) is in immediate, imminent danger. It also requires nuisance permits to be obtained from the state before an animal that is not creating an imminent danger to be taken.
So, why is this important? The protections provided represent a fundamental change in the way humans view these animals. They were initially viewed as nuisances to human expansion and livelihood; now we better understand their role in the ecology of our environment and we are willing to manage our impact so that they can return to at least portions their historical ranges. This will likely cause increased sightings, and possibly interactions, with these animals however, the University of Illinois has developed an extensive site titled “Living with Wildlife in Illinois” if you are interested in learning more about the animals we share our state with and how to live with them. As it was stated so well by Bob Bluett, IDNR Wildlife Biologist, in his 2012 interview by the Chicago Tribune “Some of those species are quite common in other parts of the U.S., people seem to get along just fine.”