Although wolves, bears, and cougars do not officially have active breeding populations in Illinois, it is possible that they will move back in someday. State lines do not mean anything to dispersing animals, and individuals leaving populations in nearby states could choose to pass through, or even take up residence in Illinois. Cougars have an active population in the Black Hills, and breeding packs of gray wolves live near the Wisconsin/Illinois border.
Right now, those dispersing animals would have no legal protections. Illinois does not have populations of wolves, bears, or cougars, so they have not passed laws protecting them. Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), Rep. Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton), Rep. John Cavaletto (R-Salem), and Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), among others, plan to change that. They have introduced a bill, SB 3049, which would add the three species to the state’s list of protected species, making it illegal to kill, possess, or sell those animals or parts of those animals.
The bill appears to have wide support, from environmentalists as well as sportsmen and farmers. The bill does include a clause allowing landowners and tenants to kill individual animals if they feel immediately threatened. People could also seek a permit to allow destruction of animals if the animal is causing a threat which is not immediate and personal, such as predation on livestock.
The House Agriculture and Conservation Committee approved the bill 16-0 on Tuesday, May 6. The House should vote on the bill shortly thereafter.