Illinois General Assembly Welcomes Cougars, Bears and Wolves Back to the Prairie State


Today, the Illinois House unanimously passed a bill to add mountain lions, gray wolves, and black bears to the Illinois Wildlife Code. This tremendous victory reflects broad bi-partisan support for wildlife and wild places in Illinois and an ongoing commitment by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to supporting predators as they return to our state.

When Illinois was settled by the first pioneers, mountain lions, gray wolves, and black bears roamed the forests and prairies. In an attempt to conquer the landscape, the settlers drove these predators away, destroying the delicate balance of the ecosystem. Now, decades later, we have been given a second chance to allow mountain lions, gray wolves, and black bears to return to their native range and restore a more natural balance.

Gray wolves were almost extinct in the lower-48 states forty years ago, but now almost 4,000 wolves live in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan thanks to federal protections. These wolves have ventured south of the Wisconsin border into northwestern Illinois on several occasions, and are likely to continue doing so as they expand their territory. Black bear populations are well-established in Wisconsin and Missouri, and Illinois residents have spotted at least two bears here since 2000. Mountain lions have healthy populations in South Dakota, and male mountain lions often migrate to other states, including Illinois, in search of unclaimed territory.

If enacted, Senate Bill 3049 will give black bears, wolves, and mountain lions the common-sense protections enjoyed by almost all other mammals in Illinois, while still allowing farmers to protect their livestock. It will stop the shoot-on-sight incidents that have repeatedly plagued mountain lions, in particular, when they make the trek to the Prairie State.

Today’s bi-partisan vote is a testament to our state’s commitment to protecting wild places in Illinois. And it’s a demonstration that nature and agriculture can be managed in a sensible way that preserves each. Thank you to our Chief Sponsors Senator Linda Holmes and Representative Kelly Cassidy, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Farm Bureau, and the environmental and conservation community for working together to protect wildlife in our great state. 


Cougar image by Josh More via Flickr