By Len Wells

Even if a space ship had been spotted landing in parking lot of the Road Ranger down by the Interstate, the biggest news last week still would have been bear sightings.  As far as I can tell, the whole bear-a-palooza thing started over in Franklin County, somewhere around the spillway at Rend Lake.  In no time, residents started to report bear sightings near Bungay in rural Hamilton County, down around Springerton, north of Centerville and eventually in the Crossville area.  Fortunately, there is plenty of photographic proof that a bear or perhaps a family of bears has been wandering across this part of the country.  One of the most interesting photos I’ve seen on social media shows a bear with a cub.  Others have shown the bear in or near a garden, while most show the bear wandering down dirt roads near the woods.  In any event, the bear or bears seem to really be on the move. 

A tip of the hat goes to White County Sheriff Randy Graves for issuing a statement about the bear sightings. “The bear is a protected species in the Illinois Wildlife Code,” Sheriff Graves said. “Bears cannot be hunted, killed or harassed unless there is a threat to a person.”  Sheriff Graves added that folks should not feed the bears, people should leave their pets outside, and no one should not go near the bear.  I could be wrong, but all that sounds a lot like plain old common sense.  After all, If you’re driving down the road and spot a groundhog, you shouldn’t stop your car, get out and shoot it – just because it’s wildlife. The same goes for the wandering bear or bears here in Southern Illinois.

There are a lot of theories out there about why black bears have started showing up here in Southern Illinois. Some experts believe bears may have started to migrate out of Missouri where there is a confirmed population.  A recent study conducted at Southern Illinois University revealed that about 15% of the State of Illinois could actually support a bear population.  Locally, researchers identified the Shawnee Forest as a likely home for bears.  Since the Shawnee Forest isn’t all that far away, it should come as no surprise that a bear has made its way into White County.

Then don’t forget there used to be a black bear that was kept at Camp Ondessonk near the tiny village of Ozark, Illinois in the Shawnee National...

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