Black Bears in Illinois?

By Michael C. Mayes

Recently, an article appeared in the Kewanee, Illinois Star-Courier documenting the capture of a black bear (Ursus americanus) near Neponset. It is believed to be the first black bear sighted in the state of Illinois in over 40 years and the first black bear ever caught in the state’s history.

The manner in which the story has unfolded is a familiar one. The wildlife officials in Illinois have automatically assumed that the bear is an escaped pet. Although it is possible that such an assumption is correct, it seems to be an automatic assumption of all wildlife officials in all states when it comes to animals turning up in places outside of their known habitat zones.

In Texas, such assumptions are pervasive among wildlife officials regarding cougar (Puma concolor) and black bear sightings. If no picture, tracks, or other hard evidence is present the officials will invariably claim that the witness was mistaken. If tracks, a photo, or other evidence is present proving that the witness actually did see the cougar or bear, officials will normally state that the animal is merely an “escaped pet.”

Such stock assumptions, in many cases, seem in defiance to reason; however, the basis behind such seemingly unreasonable assumptions and statements may simply boil down to a management/money issue. Official acknowledgement of a species in an area where it was previously not known to inhabit, may indeed ultimately lead to expended resources, time and money that must be devoted to management of that species. Further, certain industries in a region may fear that they could be adversely impacted by the discovery of threatened or endangered species.

If the sasquatch were documented it would more than likely have to be considered endangered or, at the very least, threatened. Those who would be likely tasked with implementing such a management plan may be less than enthusiastic at that prospect. Developers and the timber industry would probably not welcome the news. These industries have historically had a powerful voice.

It is possible that the Illinois wildlife officials are right; the black bear captured there may very well be an escaped pet or captive. However, just once, it would be sweet and welcome music for a wildlife official to say, “We have no idea where this guy came from, but we intend to find out.”

Source: Star-Courier.

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