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.
Authored by Senator Linda Holmes (D-Aurora). Senate Bill 3049 would add wolves, black bears, and mountain lions to the Illinois Wildlife Code thereby giving them "protected species" status.
SB 3049 came into being after a November, 2013 incident when a family near Morrison, Illinois asked state conservation officers to kill a mountain lion hiding under an outbuilding on their farm.
According to Senator Holmes she heard an outcry from animal lovers in her area who embrace the rarity of a wild mountain lion.
"For many years we didn't have them here in Illinois," Holmes said. "Now we're starting to find that some populations of these animals are coming into Illinois, and they are just being shot, without any recourse whatsoever."
At this time, mountain lions have no legal status in Illinois, and thereby no protection. Anyone who sees a mountain lion can kill it and not face any repercussions other than societies' moral condemnation. SB 3049, as originally written would add black bears, gray wolves, and mountain lions to the state's list of protected species.
However, recent amendments added by the Illinois Farm Bureau would restrict those protections and allow landowners or their tenants to legally kill any of these three species if they cause or threaten to cause "harm or death to a human, livestock, domestic animals or structures. . . "
And even if members of these three species do not meet the threshold mentioned above, they can still be killed if designated a "nuisance" animal by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
In the end, despite the added depredation and nuisance clauses, Senate Bill 3049 is a giant first step towards protecting mountain lions in Illinois and should be supported by everyone who believes that there's room in this world for both humans and wildlife.
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.
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.
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.
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/
Thank you so very much for taking the time to help protect Illinois wolves, bears and lions!
The Mountain Lion Foundation, founded in 1986, is a national nonprofit organization protecting mountain lions and their habitat. The mountain lion is also known as cougar, puma, panther, and catamount.
We believe that mountain lions are in peril. Our nation is on the verge of destroying this apex species upon which whole ecosystems depend. Hunting mountain lions is morally unjustified, and killing lions to prevent conflicts is ineffective and dangerous. There is a critical need to know more about the biology, behavior, and ecology of mountain lions, and governments should base decisions upon truthful science, valid data, and the highest common good. Conserving critical lion habitat is essential.
Together, we can save America's lion.
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