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Wild Species Could Be Welcome in the Prairie State

PHOTO: Senate Bill 3049 would add wolves, mountain lions and black bears to the Illinois Wildlife Code, giving them protected status. Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
PHOTO: Senate Bill 3049 would add wolves, mountain lions and black bears to the Illinois Wildlife Code, giving them protected status. Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
April 8, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Hunting and habitat destruction forced wolves, black bears and mountain lions out of Illinois nearly 150 years ago, and as those animals make a slow comeback in the state, there are efforts being made to ensure their protection. The Senate Monday passed SB3049, which amends the Illinois Wildlife Code and adds those animals to the list of protected species. According to state Senator Linda Holmes, who wrote the legislation, those species should be allowed to live in Illinois if they want to.

"There's no reason why these animals shouldn't be able to come into Illinois and not be threatened if they're not threatening anybody," she said. "For the most part, there's very little human interaction with these animals. These animals want to avoid us as much as we want to avoid them."

Holmes said that since 2000 there have been a handful of sightings of cougars, bears and wolves in Illinois and they are the only North American mammals not currently listed as protected species in the state.

She said wolves, bears and lions are co-existing peacefully with humans in many other states, and cases of attacks are extremely rare.

"Around 90 people are killed by lightning each year," she pointed out. "So you have more to fear when you go outside of being struck by lightning than you do of running into any of these animals."

Some people and groups, including the Illinois Farm Bureau, voiced concerns about landowner rights, so Holmes said changes were made to the initial legislation.

"We added an amendment that allows the landowner or tenant to kill either the grey wolf, the black bear or the mountain lion if they are stalking or causing an imminent threat to humans, livestock, domestic animals or property," she said.

Additionally, under the legislation, the Department of Natural Resources could grant a nuisance permit to a landowner if an animal were causing a threat that was not an imminent danger.

Holmes' measure passed the Senate by a unanimous vote and now heads to the House.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL