Of sweet corn bandits & black bears in Illinois

Rambling through central Illinois, pondering what life with bears in our woods will be like.

Bruno, the black bear who wandered through Iowa into western Illinois in June and has since voyaged south into Pike County, has been on my mind Monday morning as we set up an electric fence around what remains of our sweet corn. We planted corn knowing deer would make it hard to get a good crop. So we planted extra – just not enough extra to avoid some real angst on the part of my youngest son, who has worked hardest on the project. Even so, the corn is tasseling and setting ears and we might get a few sweet meals with the help of the electric fence – unless the raccoons outsmart us, which seems likely. But if bears were in the area? No chance, from what I read. People who deal with bears on a regular basis laugh at the thought of an electric fence stopping them and talk about “bear circles” – areas where black bears camp out and can cause up to 15 percent losses in large fields.
Bear sightings will probably become more and more common in western Illinois. Missouri is preparing for a hunting season because its population has increased so much. Hunting is already legal in Wisconsin and Minnesota, where bears are increasingly moving south. So it’s inevitable that more bears will wander into our state, where they first disappeared in the 1870s after having been a native species. Our state does not offer the large blocks of timber that bears prefer – which is one reason why people can track the wandering of Bruno. Hopefully, more regular appearances of bears will be less likely to draw crowds of gawkers – as has happened in Iowa and now in western Illinois. In a Facebook post accompanied by a photo of a large crowd taking pictures of Bruno, the Illinois Department of Natural noted: “The outcome for this bear is entirely dependent on how the public interacts with him. If he is left alone, he can continue his journey safely on his own.” Left unsaid is what happens if people get too close – at least 100 yards is the advised distance – and someone gets hurt.

Also still to be hashed out is a larger discussion: Are we willing to let bears live among us in Illinois? According to a Chicago Tribune story, an Illinois DNR survey found a slight majority of residents wanted to protect black bears – so long as the bears were not in their backyard. Moving forward, DNR plans to expand the survey. … Parting shot: Don’t tell my wife, who is petrified of bears, but if a survey comes my way I’ll say, “Let bears live in Illinois.” Yes, even in my son’s sweet corn patch, if that’s what it takes.
Contact Jeff Lampe at (309) 231-6040 or jeff@wklypost.com