A bill that would give protected status to wolves, bears and cougars -- but still allow landowners and tenants to kill the animals if they pose a threat -- is working its way through the Illinois legislature with wide support.
Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said legislation is needed on gray wolves, black bears and cougars because they're moving into Illinois -- or already have. But under current Illinois wildlife laws, the animals essentially don't exist.
"Until we include them in our wildlife code, we can't manage them in any way," Cassidy said.
Cassidy said the legislation is supported by sportsmen, farmers and downstate interests, as well as environmentalists, who are all "happily singing Kumbaya together for the first time in a long time."
The bill's co-sponsors include Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton; Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem; and Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg -- all of whom are known in the House as protectors of the interests of downstate sportsmen and farmers.
Costello said, "I would like to thank Rep. Cassidy for working with the Farm Bureau to elevate their concerns."
The bill would put the three animals on the state's list of protected species, meaning it would be illegal to kill, possess or sell the animals or any parts of the animals.
However, a landowner or tenant who is on his or her property would be allowed to kill a bear, cougar or wolf if there is a "reasonable expectation that it causes an imminent threat of physical harm or death to a human, livestock, domestic animals or harm to structures or other property on the owner or tenant's land."
Property owners and tenants also could seek a "nuisance permit" that would allow the killing of the animals if they are "causing a threat to an owner or tenant of land or his or her property that is not an immediate threat."
Though cougar sightings in Illinois remain rare occurrences for now, Costello said cougars appear to be moving toward Illinois from the Black Hills region. Cassidy said breeding packs of gray wolves are located near the Wisconsin-Illinois border.
The state Department of Natural Resources supports the legislation.
DNR director Marc Miller in January said: "We believe there is room on our Illinois landscape for apex predators, but these species also will require management as they re-establish and grow in numbers to deal with human-wildlife interactions, nuisance animals, and to keep a balance in predator-prey numbers within suitable habitat areas. Placing the species on the protected list is a necessary step."
Cassidy said she expects a House vote on the measure early next week. The House Agriculture and Conservation Committee approved it 16-0 on Tuesday. The bill, SB 3049, would then need approval from the Senate.