MOUNT MORRIS, Ill. -- A young black bear that has been roaming northwestern Illinois this spring drew dozens of curious onlookers when he took refuge in an oak tree after ambling through the small Ogle County town, prompting fresh pleas from wildlife officials to leave the youngster alone.
The latest sighting was on Wednesday, when the bear -- which has inspired his own Facebook page -- climbed a tree on Suzanne Felker's farm outside of Mount Morris to take a snooze. Felker, who lives in nearby Rochelle and leases her property, said she hurried over after receiving a call from a neighbor reporting that scores of cars were parked along the road and dozens of people were staring at or taking pictures of the bear.
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"I didn't want anybody to get hurt," said Felker, adding that her daughter had commented on Facebook earlier in the day that she hoped the roving bear didn't end up on the family's property.
As soon as conservation police cleared the crowd, the bear came down and headed through a pasture and some woods in the direction of a nearby camp, she said.
"I just hope that he doesn't come to any harm or harm anyone," said Felker."I don't think he's a danger to people if they just stay away from him and don't feed him and he moves on."
The bear has been spotted more than a dozen times in several counties after he likely wandered into the state after being pushed out of his home territory -- perhaps Wisconsin -- by other bears. Conservation officials said the bear likely was looking for a mate but might head back where he came from.
There are no plans to trap or move the bear unless he becomes aggressive, Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris Young said.
Black bears once were common in Illinois but eliminated in the state by 1870. They're not yet protected in Illinois but would be starting in January under legislation awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn's signature -- prompted by expectations that more bears will make their way to the state.
For now, this bear's best chance of survival is if people keep their distance so he doesn't become too accustomed to humans -- and so the animal can find his way back to his natural habitat, officials said. The DNR has urged people to remove bird feeders, dog food, trash cans and barbecue grills in areas where the bear has been spotted to discourage him from foraging in residential areas.
"It's fine to view the bear from a distance, but we want to leave it alone so it doesn't become aggressive," acting Capt. Laura Petreikis of the Illinois Conservation Police told The (Dixon) Telegraph. "Give it its space.