IDNR warning people to leave bears alone

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Police Officers are reminding people to leave the black bear traveling through western Illinois alone after more than 300 people gathered to watch, follow and harass the animal as it traveled through northwest Henderson County over Father’s Day weekend.

IDNR biologists and Conservation Police Officers have been monitoring the bear since it crossed into Illinois from Wisconsin on June 10. The bear later crossed into Iowa and came back into Illinois in southern Rock Island County on June 18. Since then, the bear had traveled through northwestern Illinois unmolested until last weekend, according to news media reports.

“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,” IDNR District Wildlife Biologist Stefanie Fitzsimons said in a statement. “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 was likely passing through the state looking for a mate. She said the bear won’t stay long because Illinois doesn’t have the appropriate habitat. Fitzsimons said people should stay at least 100 yards away from the bear.

Native to some of Illinois’ neighboring states, black bears used to be common in Illinois, but had disappeared by the mid-1880s, according to a news release from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Bears are protected under the Illinois Wildlife Code. They may not be hunted, killed or harassed unless they present an immediate threat to people or property, according to the release. Wisconsin is home to an estimated 29,000 bears, most of them in the far northern regions of the state, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“Certainly, the more pressure is put on the bear, the more likely we’ll see an adverse outcome,” Illinois Conservation Police Captain Laura Petreikis said in a statement. “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.”

Anyone who spots the bear is encouraged to notify their local law enforcement agency or Conservation Police.

Information and safety tips are available online at bebearaware.org.