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Bear, deer, wolves and cranes

July 1, 1993

Bear, deer, wolves and cranes

By Rod Myers, Naturalist

A black bear was struck and killed by a motor vehicle on Highway 36 just 15 miles northeast of Burlington, Wisconsin. This incident was reported firsthand by Scott Caring of Rockford, who was on his way back from a birdwatching trip to Milwaukee’s lake front.

Scott reported it to the wildlife officials at the Bong Natural Area in southeast Wisconsin. The site of the bear fatality is only 25 miles north of McHenry County, Illinois. If the black bear was wild, then it may well indeed be the southernmost Wisconsin bear in decades.

Caring described the habitat the bear was in as wild, considering southeast Wisconsin is the most developed area of the state. “We had just passed lakes Wind and Muskego when we found the animal,” said Caring. “The habitat the bear was in was dotted with wetlands interspersed with open, grassy areas and forests, both of coniferous and deciduous types.”

The black bear, Ursus americanus, resides in areas of southern Illinois, but officially has not reached northern Illinois from Wisconsin or eastern Iowa, where they are now confirmed in eight Iowa counties. There are unofficial reports of black bears in Jo Daviess County, and last year reports of black bear came from near the Fox River in McHenry County. Interestingly enough, the Highway 36 bear’s demise was just two miles from Wisconsin’s portion of the Fox River.

In the past two years, a black bear was killed by a car near Dodgeville in southwest Wisconsin, and there was a confirmed black bear sighting near Watertown, which is in the Madison area. Also, in Middletown, a suburb of Madison, a pesky wild black bear was removed from a neighborhood and relocated 100 miles north.

The black bear is noted as being mostly nocturnal, and has a diet ranging from berry sweets to meat, with insects, plant tubers and human food garbage in between. Their color range in the West goes from cinnamon to nearly all white, and in parts of Alaska, some black bears are bluish. Black bears in the Midwest, South and East are what their name says, black.

Some predict that in 10 years or less, black bears will try to become established along the Sugar River corridor in Illinois. The question is, who’s going to win the race to the Illinois Sugar? The black bear, the wolf, or the whooping crane? Don’t laugh — one of the Necedah whoopers spent a month on the Sugar River corridor just north of the Illinois border. This occurred last spring after the bear split from its group on the way back from Florida wintering grounds.

As for the wolves, Wisconsin’s population continues to expand, and, according to Illinois DNR biologist Randy Nyboer, “The Sugar River is where we expect wolves to show up in Illinois for the first time in over 100 years.”

John Haack, retired DNR biologist from northwest Wisconsin, recently gave me some good info on wolves and deer: “A conservative estimate on Wisconsin’s wolf population is 350, and Wisconsin’s wolf biologists estimate the actual number to be at least 33 percent higher. We just don’t know where all of them are at. We can’t count them all, and they seem to be popping up all over. Those without packs, and there are a lot of them this time of year with all the young from the spring births, truly become nomadic in the fall.”

Unfortunately, Winnebago is the first Illinois county to have resident white-tailed deer with the dreaded chronic wasting disease. “You can partially thank ex-Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson for the chronic wasting disease epidemic in Wisconsin,” said John Haack. “It all started when Thompson made the secretary of the Wisconsin DNR a political appointment. He then chose pro-business lawyer George Meyer as the DNR secretary. Then Tommy and George began dismantling the protective laws shielding the fragile environment from destructive public and private usage. Tommy made the rights of private business as almighty at the expense of the public’s best interest.”

That’s when privately owned deer farms started to import deer with bigger racks from the West. The obsession of big antlers is the cause of it all. A deer farmer near Madison had the first infected deer, though he didn’t know it at the time. Then he thought, why not share his big-antlered Western deer gene pool with the local deer? And he made it so by releasing some into the wild. Other deer farmers with diseased Western deer followed suit. But, by 1997, the farmers knew some of their animals were infected, and they went for help, seeking out George and Tommy.

Little Tommy agreed to form a panel to look into the problem, but he filled it with deer farmers who subsequently took the problem and hushed it up. Five years later, the public found out that Wisconsin was in one of its worst environmental disasters ever.

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