Why black bear sightings like the one in Gurnee are becoming more common

Michelle Gallardo Image
Thursday, June 8, 2023
Illinois black bear spottings, like one in Gurnee, becoming more frequent
Wednesday morning a black bear was spotted running across the Gurnee Mills parking lot, and experts say these once-rare sigthings are becoming more frequent.

GURNEE, Ill. (WLS) -- Wednesday morning's sighting of a black bear running across the Gurnee Mills parking lot gave parents dropping their children off at daycare a bit of a pause. After all, with no resident populations in Illinois, bear sightings are uncommon though they appear to be becoming less so.

"What we're seeing is the result of them running out of spaces in other states and going on these exploratory types of movements looking for a place to call home," said Chris Jacques of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Police posted on their Facebook page that they received a call around 8:45 a.m. about a possible bear spotted near Hunt Club Road and Route 132.

Officers were immediately dispatched to the area to confirm the spotting, but police said the bear was nowhere to be found.

Black bears were once common in Illinois but were eliminated from the state in 1870. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources says that while there are currently no resident populations of black bears in Illinois, it's possible that individual bears from populations in Missouri and Wisconsin could travel into and through Illinois.

IDNR said in the last 20 years there have been only eight confirmed bear sightings in Illinois. Three of them have come this year alone.

This past Saturday, a bear was seen roaming through a person's backyard in Randolph County, about two miles south of EDvansville.

In the summer of 2020, a bear nicknamed Bruno embarked on an epic journey from Wisconsin to Missouri, spending about a month in Illinois.

"We're seeing more and more of these occurrences moving forward and I suspect that is going to continue so the message I think to convey is they're going to be here," said Jacques.

And while Bruno and his travels made him something of a social media celebrity, wildlife experts said in the unlikely case a person here were to come across a bear, the most important thing to do is give it space.

If you see a black bear, IDNR says you should not run or surprise the bear. Instead, make noise to ensure the bear is aware of your presence. IDNR said black bears are not likely to attack humans unless they feel trapped or provoked. You should also respect the bear's space and not approach it.

"They are likely more afraid of you than you of them," Jacques said. "Mostly it's going to be a flight response to get out of that area as quick as they can so yeah, there is really no imminent threat they are going to pose to you."

Gurnee police said they haven't had any additional sightings of the bear since Wednesday. As good journalists, we tried to find it ourselves, but the closest we came was a bear claw pastry.

For more information on black bears in Illinois and what to do if you see one, visit the IDNR's resource page.