The state has seen increased activity in these animals passing through areas of Illinois, particularly on the Wisconsin border. The new law gives the Illinois Department of Natural Resources the ability to create rules and regulations protecting these animals while also ensuring public safety in a close encounter.
"A lot of forests have recovered over the last 100 years or so,” said IDNR spokesperson Chris Young. “These animals are expanding back into the eastern part of the U.S. where they were native before settlers arrived."
The law will also stipulate when an animal can be killed.
"Not only to provide protection for the animals,” Young said, “but also to provide for public safety."
Only about 15 percent of Illinois land is suitable habitat for the large mammals, but the wild guests are known to travel far from their homes north of the border. Young said black bears, for example, will travel more than 100 miles looking for a mate.
"We do expect, from time to time, a young male will be disbursing from its home range, find its way into Illinois, and we want people to be ready,” he said.
People are pleased to see help from humans who have often been the animals’ greatest threat.
"These animals that have been a part of Illinois should be a part of Illinois,” said Colette Carter, of Springfield.
Public education will be a major part of the new law. Young said people need to know how to interact with these wild animals when they appear. The animals should never be fed, never be approached and wildlife experts should be called.
"It’s basically to communicate that we're letting the animals be wild animals unless they pose some sort of threat."
The new law takes effect on January 1, 2015. IDNR hopes to draft a basic set of rules soon and will then invite experts and the public to comment.
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