Legislation would allow public to rescue injured wildlife
The Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center near Barrington relies on the public to rescue about half the animals it nurses back to health each year, but bringing certain wildlife in could cost Illinois residents fines and jail time.
State law makes it illegal for anyone without a license or permit to transport birds of prey, including eagles, as well as many other animals.
"If you look at the breadth of wildlife rehab centers in the Chicago area, we rely on people to bring animals to us," Flint Creek founder and director Dawn Keller said.
In a recent high-profile case, Steve Patterson of Oglesby, a town near Starved Rock State Park, found two baby eagles in a fallen nest near his home. After state conservation officials told Patterson not to intervene with the wildlife, he took the eagles and called Flint Creek. Patterson was eventually charged with unlawfully taking possession of the eaglets.
Now, state Rep. Bob Pritchard, a Hinckley Republican, has introduced legislation that would make it legal for anyone who encounters injured wildlife to take possession of it for immediate transfer to a rehab facility. State Sen. Julie Morrison of Deerfield has written a similar proposal.
"I know there are several people who have been fined in Illinois, and my constituents say that isn't right," Pritchard said.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris Young says it is common that members of the public are advised to leave the wildlife alone.
"Oftentimes, wild animals are rescued when they don't need to be," Young said. "Many rescues that are well-intentioned aren't necessary."
People who interfere with wildlife are also liable for any personal injury the animal may cause, and not everyone knows how to properly handle the wildlife, Young says.
Pritchard stresses that legislation would protect a timely transportation of wildlife to a rehabilitation facility and should provide guidelines for transportation.
Flint Creek, with another location in Chicago, estimates that between 44 and 53 percent of the 3,400 animals they see in a year are brought to them by members of the public.
After Patterson contacted Flint Creek, the rehab center retrieved the eaglets from him.
One eagle, Patty, still remains at the Barrington area rehab facility. Patty's counterpart, Sam, was released into the wild on New Year's Day. Sam was named after the good Samaritan legislation his and Patty's story inspired, Keller says.
Patterson is facing a retrial in February after his first trial ended with an undecided jury in October.
Flint Creek has actively supported Patterson and new Good Samaritan legislation since the day after Patterson's first trial ended.
"We don't think Patterson did anything wrong," Keller said. "He did nothing worse than the other 1,500 to 1,800 people who bring us animals in a year."