Beware of Black Bears In Illinois This Spring and Summer

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources warns people to be on the lookout for black bears which are likely to show up in Illinois this spring and summer.

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Black bear may wander through Illinois this Spring and SummerWikipedia (Public Domain)

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is telling residents to keep an eye out for black bears in the spring and summer. As black bear numbers increase in many communities in the upper U.S. and more of their habitat is disturbed or destroyed development, more encounters between bears and people have occurred.

While there are currently no black bear populations that live year round in the state, bears from other states may move through looking for mates and food. In particular, black bears which come from Wisconsin may move through Illinois as they make their way to Missouri in the spring and summer. This is becoming more common each year as the population of American Black Bears grows in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is home to a thriving black bear population last estimated at more than 24,000 bears. While until recently the black bear's normal range was located in the far northern third of the state with a growing population they are . Due to a growing becoming much more common in the lower two-thirds of the state than ever before. This means when they migrate it is not unlikely that they will move through Illinois.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources says the bears come from Wisconsin looking for food and potential mates. Illinois has seen its fair share of wandering black bears through the years because of neighboring states.

American black bears are among the least aggressive type of bears, having little resemblance to their larger cousins, like the grizzly bear or polar bear. Fatal black bear attacks on people are rare, more so than with any other type of bear. They occur on average of about once per year across North America. Only about one in a million black bear will attack a human in a predatory manner without provocation.

The reason for most black bear attacks often involves dogs. While these bears almost never attack people unless provoked, they will see dogs as a threat to their cubs. When a person gets hurt or killed by a bear in these situations it is usually the result of them going after a bear that has attacked their dog, or the dog running back to the owner for protection and being followed by the bear. More often than not though, unless there’s a cub nearby, most black bears will run away from a dog that's chasing it.

To Avoid Attracting Black Bear That Wander Into Illinois:

  • Don’t put full trash cans out at night. Bears are more active at dusk and dawn. They also have a great sense of smell, and will be attracted by the odor of garbage or food. Bring even empty cans inside at night as any remaining oder will be enough to attract nearby bear and when they the can empty, they will search the area for other available food.
  • If you have a compost pile, make sure to fully enclose it. Open compost piles, especially those that include food scraps, are irresistible to bears. Burying compost doesn’t help as bears will still smell it and dig it up when they find it.
  • Use enclosed bins for recycling.
  • Make sure your barbecue grill is always clean and as free of drippings as possible. Scrape and burn off any excess drippings and clean it regularly with ammonia or bleach. When you aren’t using the grill, move it as far away from your house as possible.
  • Be careful with bird feeders as even bird food is attractive to bears. Birds can survive with naturally available foods, especially in the spring and summer. If you set up feeders, it’s best to do so away from your house.
  • When camping it’s best to store food in a locked vehicle which includes coolers. Never store food in your tent and avoid wearing clothes to bed that you cooked in. Clean fish away from your campsite. Leave your pet at home as they may antagonize a bear who otherwise would leave the campsite without any trouble.

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Chicago, IL
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