The Illinois Department of Natural Resources issued a warning this week asking the public to stay away from a black bear spotted passing through Illinois alone.
The bear, last seen in western Illinois, has been closely monitored by the IDNR since it crossed into Illinois from Wisconsin on June 10. The bear has crossed into Iowa then returned to Illinois on June 18 in southern Rock Island County.
The department noted that the bear "has traveled through northwestern Illinois mostly unbothered" until Father's Day weekend, when more than 300 people in northwest Henderson County "gathered to view, follow and harass" it.
The bear was last seen on June 21 headed toward Stronghurst in southern Henderson County, the IDNR said.
“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,” said Stefanie Fitzsimons, district wildlife biologist at the IDNR, in a statement.
“It’s a novelty to see a bear in Illinois," Fitzsimons said, "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.”
She said the bear is likely passing through the state to find a mate and probably won't stay long since Illinois doesn't offer the appropriate habitat for bear.
If you spot a bear, Fitzsimons said people should remember it’s a wild animal and stay at least 100 yards away.
Black bears are native to Illinois’ neighboring states, according to the IDNR, and are protected by the Illinois Wildlife Code, meaning they cannot be hunted, killed or harassed "unless there is an imminent threat to person or property."
“Certainly, the more pressure is put on the bear, the more likely we’ll see an adverse outcome,” said Captain Laura Petreikis of the Illinois Conservation Police. “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.”
If you spot the bear, please contact your local conservation police or law enforcement agency.