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Wayward bear journeys toward safety

A rare trip by a wandering black bear through the Sauk Valley in June might be approaching a positive outcome, as the creature seems to be headed home to Wisconsin. Kudos to the public for giving the bear the space it needed.

Published: Saturday, July 5, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

Encounters between humans and wildlife don’t always end happily.

But a happy ending might well be in store for a wayward American black bear, presumably from Wisconsin, that wandered through the Sauk Valley in June.

You’ll recall that the bear created quite a stir in Ogle County.

Spotted near Mount Morris on June 18, the bear hightailed it 20 feet up an oak tree as several dozen bystanders snapped pictures and peered at the wild creature. Police shooed away the humans, and the bear eventually came down and left.

Before reaching Mount Morris, the bear, thought to be a young male, was initially sighted 10 days earlier near communities closer to the state line – Freeport, Stockton and Roscoe. A few days later, the bear was seen in Ogle County along state Route 64. Other previous sightings were in Genoa (DeKalb County) and near Rochelle (Ogle County).

But where, oh where, did the bear go after Mount Morris?

Chris Young, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said the bear was in Jo Daviess County as of last Saturday.

It had skirted Elizabeth and then wandered near Scales Mound and Warren before the latest sighting at Waddams Grove, 7 or 8 miles south of the state line.

He’s been doing what male bears do, Young said – taking a road trip to look for a mate.

But with no female bears in the region, the bear is expected to continue its journey northward.

This won’t be the last bear to wander into Illinois since settlers killed them all off in the 1800s. By the way, a new state law that takes effect Jan. 1 will add black bears to the list of protected wildlife, so hunters should not get any ideas.

If bears pay another visit, people should remove bird feeders, keep pet food inside, secure trash cans and barbecue grills, and closely monitor their pets when outside.

The bear caught the public’s imagination, but people generally followed the recommendations of police and wildlife experts and kept their distance – for their safety and that of the bear.

“People are interested and excited, naturally, to see it, and now people are learning how to live with the bear, and the bear is learning to go his own way,” Young said.

That’s an outcome pleasing to humans and wildlife alike.

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