A black bear passed by an Illinois nursing home, strolled through a small town, rested in a tree and visited a youth camp Wednesday. The sightings southwest of Rockford were the latest this month as the nomadic creature — and officials believe it’s just one — continues making its way through the state.
The roaming omnivore turned up Wednesday morning in Mount Morris, said village president Dan Elsasser, where it made cameos outside a nursing home and in front of houses.
“It doesn’t appear to be aggressive or violent,” said Elsasser, whose village in Ogle County has about 3,000 residents. “It went through several people’s residential yards on its way through town. It seems to be a pretty timid bear.”
By early afternoon, it had relocated to a leafy tree outside of town, local and state authorities said. Chris Young, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said a crowd of around 30 people gathered briefly around the large oak tree to snap photos of the bear before law enforcement asked them to leave.
DNR officials said people began reporting bear sightings late last month, spotting an animal around Galena, Rockford, Belvidere and elsewhere. Mount Morris, home of Wednesday’s sighting, is about 30 miles southwest of Rockford and 100 miles west of Chicago.
Conservation officials have speculated that the sightings are of a single bear that was turned loose by his mother to make his own way.
“So far, it hasn’t bothered anyone and no one’s bothered it,” Young said. “We’d like to keep it moving on its way. It’s a young male that’s looking for suitable habitat and probably looking for a mate."
The bear later descended the tree and made his way to a youth camp owned by Mooseheart. Despite a camp pond stocked with fish, he didn’t pause for supper. As nightfall approached, the bear was believed to be heading through a wooded area toward White Pines Forest State Park, roughly nine miles south of Mount Morris.
Black bears were mostly wiped out in Illinois 140 years ago, but biologists have been preparing for their return as they reclaim some of their former territory.
This round of bear sightings is the first in Illinois since 2009, Young said.
The General Assembly passed a measure this year that would protect black bears from hunters. That measure, which has yet to be signed by the governor, wouldn’t go into effect until January. Until then, Young said, a landowner could shoot a bear.
But as long as the bear doesn’t pose a threat to people or property, Young said, state officials plan to let it roam. DNR officials noted that residents of neighboring states, including Wisconsin and Missouri, have learned to co-exist with black bears by limiting their interactions.
“It should not be approached,” DNR Director Marc Miller said earlier this month. “Help us keep this bear from being accustomed to people. Always observe wildlife from a distance.”
Tribune photographer Stacey Wescott contributed from Ogle County.
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