SPRINGFIELD, IL – The gray wolf, American black bear and mountain lion (cougar) will come under the protection of the Illinois Wildlife Code on Jan. 1, Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller announced Monday. Senate Bill 3049, signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, gives the IDNR the authority to manage these species for the protection of both wildlife and public safety. All three species were present when settlers arrived in Illinois, 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 range in the eastern United States.
“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,” said IDNR Director Marc Miller. “I want to thank Governor Quinn and bill sponsors Sen. Linda Holmes and Rep. Kelly Cassidy for their leadership. This law gives the Department the ability to create long-term management goals and to draft response protocols on managing human-wildlife conflicts with these three species.”
SB 3049 allows landowners to take a black bear or mountain lion if there is an imminent threat to lives and property. The law also allows landowners to apply for a nuisance permit to remove an animal that is not an immediate threat. The gray wolf already receives legal protection in Illinois from both the U.S. and Illinois Endangered Species Acts. In these instances, endangered species law will be followed. Due to its federal protection, rules for taking a gray wolf south of Interstate 80 are more stringent. South of Interstate 80, gray wolves may not be taken unless they present an imminent threat to people. Any other taking requires state and federal permits.
Common questions about SB3049:
Is Illinois encouraging the return of large predators?
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is not actively working to restore gray wolves, American black bears or mountain lions to Illinois. However, IDNR recognizes that occasional individual animals are likely to make their way here. A month-long visit to northern Illinois by a black bear in June demonstrated the benefits of cooperation among state and local government entities in monitoring the bear, but allowing it remain a wild animal. The passage of SB3049 is a first necessary step that allows the Department to develop formal rules and protocols to manage these species.
What will IDNR do to manage wolves, bears and mountain lions?
Right now, IDNR biologists and the Illinois Conservation Police are working together to develop protocols for addressing interactions between people and wolves, bears and mountain lions. Conservation Police will share this information with local law enforcement agencies, the likely first-responders in the event of a sighting or nuisance call. Currently, Illinois Conservation Police officers are allowing these animals to go on their way unless they pose a threat.
What are the chances of populations of wolves, black bears and mountain lions becoming established in Illinois?
Re-colonization by these species is possible although Illinois has relatively little suitable habitat in large enough blocks to support these animals. According to habitat models, only about 14.7 percent of Illinois’ area is suitable for black bears, 6.6 percent for mountain lions and 14 percent for gray wolves.
What can Illinois residents do to be prepared for encounters with these species?
Property owners can avoid encounters with wildlife by securing potential food sources, including pet food, barbecue grills, trash and other sources. Bird feeders can be taken down temporarily in the event of a local sighting.
Learn more about living with wildlife in Illinois: http://web.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife/
Read the text of SB 3049: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=3049&GAID=12&GA=98&DocTypeID=SB&LegID=79413&SessionID=85