Environmental Policy and Culture
Jason Smith

A Synthesis of Large Carnivore Management and its Application to Illinois

Black Bears, Gray Wolves, and Cougars

Published On

July 2015

Originally Published

NURJ Online 2014-15



As increased sightings of black bears (Ursus americanus), gray wolves (Canis lupus), and cougars (Puma concolor) occur in the state of Illinois, it is prudent to consider policy approaches to deal with these species. Each can be a valuable player in improving ecosystems, but also a nuisance and threat to humans. This study aims to be applicable directly to their increasing relevance and serve as a synthesis of best practices and suggestions from groups across the country that have worked with the species. Different state plans have been reviewed, from states with varying degrees of experience with the three species. These plans demonstrate typical techniques used for each carnivore, and often include hunting as a primary management tool, in addition to a focus on preventing conflict through public education. States prioritize maintaining populations of these species while minimizing conflicts with humans. From a review of these plans and relevant literature on the topic, recommendations emerge. These involve a focus on “people management” that includes preventative action, personal agency, and information on the benefits of the carnivores. Hunting, while a beneficial recreational experience that is often publically supported, is a complicated tool that should be carefully designed and considered. As Illinois is only beginning to experience these animals, the initial policies should prioritize people management approaches over hunting as the carnivores continue to cross into Illinois.


Historical environmental conditions with expanding human impact have cut a rough deal for large carnivores. These species often need wide ranges of suitable habitat and often are solitary and territorial, making for low-density populations (Negri and Quigley 2010). As habitats are fragmented and people enter into new areas, human-carnivore interactions can increase. This can lead to direct persecution as carnivores are seen as competitors to humans, and this persecution is one of the reasons carnivores in general are dealing with high extinction rates (Negri and Quigley 2010).

For some, the extinction of these dangerous animals that threaten human lives and property could be construed as positive. However, carnivores play a key environmental role that should not be overlooked. Perhaps the most salient role is their control of herbivore populations in the predator-prey dynamic. In places that lack large carnivores, human hunters are said to replace this role, but these hunters might be unable to match the subtle dynamic of large carnivores (Peterson 1988). One famous example of carnivores regulating herbivores is the role of wolves in Yellowstone National Park. After their reintroduction, excessive elk populations were regulated and their foraging patterns changed in response to the new threat (Beschta and Ripple 2013). This led to increased canopy cover with improved survival of cottonwoods, aspen, and willows, which in turn allowed for increased beaver and bison populations in the park (Ripple and Beschta 2011).

Large carnivores also contribute to interference competition between other carnivores and can indirectly decrease the spread of Lyme disease. Levi and Wilmers (2012) demonstrate how the disappearance of large carnivores in Minnesota led to an increase in coyotes. Importantly, increased coyote populations then caused fox populations to decrease. Foxes are more suited to eat small animals like birds and rodents than coyotes are. When large carnivores were reintroduced, the coyote population decreased and the fox population increased because of competition dynamics. This has an effect on zoonotic diseases that affect humans and originate in animals; a common example is Lyme disease. Lyme disease prefers large hosts like deer or small hosts like rodents, and importantly avoids medium sized hosts. To link back to the carnivores, large carnivores eat the large hosts and small carnivores eat the small hosts; coyotes prioritize medium sized hosts and therefore do not reduce Lyme disease. The introduction of large carnivores would then create a balance with greater predation on large and small prey and decrease this disease in humans (Levi and Wilmers 2012).

Finally, large carnivores deserve protection because of their role as umbrella species whose very own protection will extend to smaller species that live within their wide ranges (Peterson 1988). This makes for an effective and efficient conservation tactic as habitat protections form an umbrella over the smaller species.

This report will focus on three large carnivores specifically: black bears (Ursus americanus), gray wolves (Canis lupus), and cougars (Puma concolor). Black bears have home ranges that vary from 10 to over 100 km2 and they generally live over twenty years. They are typically solitary, are omnivorous, and prefer a mix of forested and open areas. Hunters are the main source of their mortality, and black bears have slow reproduction cycles with litters every 2 to 5 years (Witmer, Martin, and Sayler 1998). Gray wolves have significant variation in range size, which falls between 13 and 94 km2 and they live for about ten years. They also have high dispersal rates. As social animals they hunt in packs, are carnivorous, and are habitat generalists avoiding only deserts with no prey and tropical rain forests. Like with bears, humans are the most common cause of mortality, but they breed earlier than black bears, typically in their third year cycles (Witmer, Martin, and Sayler 1998). Cougars have ranges from 32 to 1000 km2, with males typically roaming farther than females. They are very mobile, live over 12 years, are carnivorous, and are solitary. Their habitat preferences generally consist of open or mixed forests, but they are found in many other types as well. Cougars have similar reproductive cycles to wolves, and human-caused mortality is their highest cause of death, although wolves have been known to kill them (Witmer, Martin, and Sayler 1998).

Beyond their biological information and functions, large carnivores have cultural significance as well. The powerful bear, cunning wolf, and silent cougar are common motifs in our myths, and they can evoke a sense of pure wilderness in us (Peterson 1988). This is not to be downplayed as a motive for conservation as we become more separated from nature. Their ability to inspire awe is fundamental to our cultural heritage and should not be lost.

In Illinois, these three types of large carnivores are beginning to reenter historic territory that they have not lived in for many years (Miller 2014). As a result, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and Chicago Wilderness have both begun creating plans and suggestions to respond to these returning species in an effective way. This planning is necessary as the species may come into contact with humans as they spread their territory. This study aims to be applicable directly to these changes and serve as a synthesis of best practices and suggestions from groups across the country which have worked with the same species.

Several past studies have explored the topic of conservation and management of large carnivores. Linnell, Swenson, and Anderson (2001) found that effective management of large carnivores does permit these animals to persist even in areas with high human density. Furthermore, they found that these species could reach healthy population sizes and recover when human behavior was effectively regulated. They urge conservationists to develop these management protocols quickly in order to sustain healthy populations of both the large carnivores and their prey (Linnell et al. 2001). This suggests that the work being done in Illinois is timely and important and that it can also be effective if done in the correct manner.

This research will help to develop general guidelines and suggestions for an effective management plan for black bears, wolves, and cougars in the state of Illinois. As these species begin to return to their historic habitat, interactions between humans and these large carnivores may lead to unfortunate consequences, and effective planning will be needed to minimize these negative occurrences.


In order to compile a review of current thought on management for the three species in question, a literature review and interview model was used. This method was chosen because it is based on past management approaches, with results that can be used to guide future strategies.

The literature review consisted of research using a variety of sources. Some were research articles published in peer-reviewed journals. These sources generally came from academic researchers with interests in this subject area and often focused on analyzing specific approaches to management, such as permitted hunting. Other sources included Annual Reports and Management Plans issued by state departments of natural resources or their equivalents, depending on the state. These were from states that have a longer history of dealing with the species in question and served as a model of the different techniques that have been used.

Finally, semi-structured interviews with people with expertise in this field were used to provide nuance to some of the literature described above. I reached out to fifteen different people or organizations and received information from eight, negative responses from three, and no responses from the remaining. Those who provided information either agreed to the interview or sent me relevant documents that were used in my literature review. Additionally, I attended a conference on January 31, 2015 and took notes at a session specifically focused on the topic of my research. I also met with a professor of Environmental Science at Northwestern who has experience in mammal conservation and management.


Before delving into management suggestions, it is important to outline the general situation in Illinois as it currently stands. All three species –cougars, bears, and wolves—were historically found in what is today Illinois but they have since been unheard of in the state for around 150 years (IDNR, 2014). However, other states (primarily Western or Northern states) where these species have persisted have been successful in their conservation efforts and populations have grown. As a result of this growth, all three species have begun to disperse into new areas; a commonly used example of the dispersal potential is a cougar that originated in South Dakota and was later found in Connecticut (Tuminello, Ask, and Redmer, 2015). Illinois is one of these new areas that is beginning to receive transient members of each species. As of 2000, there have been four confirmed mountain lions (all subadult males), three confirmed black bears, and ten confirmed wolves in Illinois (Wildlife Directory Mountain Lion, Wildlife Directory Black Bear, Wildlife Directory Gray Wolf 2015).

While Illinois is not actively seeking to reintroduce these species through translocation or other methods, and while there are no established breeding populations of any of them, the transient individuals are relevant[1]. Additionally, the continued population growth of these species means there is potential for established breeding populations to emerge. Approximately 14.7% of Illinois is suitable for black bears, 7% for cougars, and 14% for wolves (Smith, 2013). However, as all are generalists, these numbers are not necessarily representative of the only places that the species could colonize and should be viewed as a guideline. Much of the suitable habitat is in Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois, and it is currently expected that black bears and wolves are more likely to establish breeding populations than cougars1. However, there will likely still be transient young male cougars that warrant management attention. Finally, the current configuration of wild areas in Illinois is fragmented by urban and agricultural sectors, which especially limits large carnivores that need wide territories and areas to disperse to. This poor habitat could deter some of the potential establishment of breeding populations[2]. On the other hand, the excessive deer population in Illinois provides ample prey, especially for cougars and wolves, so this will likely draw them to the area2.

Julia Smith published a report in 2014 on public attitudes towards these particular species in Illinois, which helps lay a foundation for moving forward in dealing with human-carnivore management. The Illinois public at this time seems to be unaware of the potential for the recolonization of these species (Smith et al., 2014). This is unsurprising considering the low numbers of confirmed sightings of each species, and the low likelihood of any personal encounters in Illinois. However, a majority of the state does support their presence and their protection if they do establish themselves (Smith et al., 2014). Those in rural areas and livestock owners are generally less supportive of protecting the carnivores, and there was a common “not in my backyard” sentiment (Smith et al., 2014). Interestingly, of the three species, cougars were believed to live closer and be more dangerous, even though black bears (the most positively viewed of the three) tend to pose more of a threat to people (Smith et al., 2014). This image is believed to originate in media portrayals of all three, as there seems to have been a focus on cougars in the news (Smith et al., 2014).

As it stands, the current goals of the IDNR are to allow for breeding populations of these species to persist if they do become established, and to balance this with human interactions with the species1. These interactions consist of minimizing problems with livestock, property damage, and attacks on pets or humans. Recently, all three species were listed in the state Wildlife Code (IDNR, 2014). Without this listing, it is as if the species do not exist once they cross into Illinois, meaning no management is possible[3]. Their listing lays the groundwork for active management planning to deal with the return of the large carnivores.


Fortunately, there are multiple other states in the country that have experience dealing with these same species, and they can serve as useful models for Illinois planners. This report includes the following states: Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. These ten states were chosen for a variety of reasons. Some—particularly the Western states—currently have established breeding populations of some if not all three of the species in question. Others are more similar to Illinois, where the animals are returning or have recently returned and as such the populations are smaller and management agencies are still formulating plans to deal with them. This spectrum should provide valuable content for planners in Illinois.

States with More Established Populations

Certain states have a longer continuous history of dealing with black bears, cougars, and wolves. These include Arizona, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. Minnesota was one of the last refuges for wolves in the contiguous United States, and Wyoming is well known for the presence of all three species, particularly in the Yellowstone region. Each will be discussed briefly, but in general most of these states allow some form of hunting of at least one of the species in question, are seeking to maintain breeding populations while minimizing risks to humans, and attempt to educate the public about the carnivores.

To start, Arizona has both black bears and cougars, as well as a population of Mexican wolves in the southern part of the state. While these are not the same type of wolves that are relevant to Illinois, they are similar enough that they serve as a useful analogue. However, it should be taken into account that the Mexican wolves were reintroduced to Arizona intentionally, making management slightly different3. The state allows fairly liberal hunting of both black bears and cougars because population levels are high enough that they can withstand the hunters3. There is no legal hunting of wolves because they are listed as an endangered species. Arizona uses an interagency field team with US Fish and Wildlife, Arizona Game and Fish, and various Native American agencies to manage the wolves, and a main concern is livestock depredation3. This livestock concern leads to a great deal of opposition to the wolves, especially when ranchers cannot immediately deal with a carnivore because of regulations. The field team works heavily on keeping people aware of the wolves presence to allow people to feel some sort of ability to avoid conflict3. This involves building relationships with affected individuals and outreach to explain the management approach used and what they are working on. Often this is as simple as a single conversation to show responsiveness and to help educate people about the presence of the wolves3.

Minnesota has black bears and wolves in the northern part of the state, and occasional transient cougars, although these are rare. For black bears, they focus on providing habitat, researching bear behavior, educating the public, removing problem individuals, and utilizing a hunting season (Living with Wildlife-Bears, 2015). A large focus of their program is to acknowledge human responsibility and encourage people to act in ways that do not attract bears. Cougars are rare, as mentioned above. As such, there is no full management plan for them in Minnesota. However, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) does provide information on what to do if one encounters a cougar (Cougars in Minnesota, 2015). The state protects cougars from being killed, and only the DNR and law enforcement is allowed to kill a cougar for public safety reasons; relocation is generally not considered an economically sensible option (Cougars in Minnesota, 2015). Wolves are managed according to a 2001 management plan, which allows them to expand with no established upper limit (US Fish and Wildlife Service 2001). There is no hunting of wolves, but they may be taken (killed or harassed) if there is immediate risk to human safety, if they are posing immediate danger to livestock, to protect pets in certain areas, and they may be harassed if they are within 500 yards of people, livestock, or pets (US Fish and Wildlife Service 2001). The state also compensates any livestock loss at fair market value for that animal.

New York only has black bears, but it does have a sizable population of these. Their management primarily consists of regulated hunting of bears as an economic method to deal with the large population[4]. This includes hunting in areas where there are low numbers of bears. This was done intentionally to reduce expansion of bears into areas where they are less compatible4. These hunters are seen as a work force for managing the bears, as they remove on average 1,500 bears a year and also get recreational benefit from the hunting4. They also focus on educating the public to act responsibly in areas where bears might be, in order to reduce potential conflicts. This includes creating educational materials available to the public and promoting the use of practices like bear-proof dumpsters (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 2014). The hunting season was extended to include September, in an attempt to potentially remove bears that might be damaging unharvested corn, a policy relevant tot the corn producing state of Illinois4. Their plan was developed using Stakeholder Interest Groups in order to allow for public involvement. Additionally, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation considers population levels to be high enough that hunting will not pose any large risk on overall viability of the bears (2014).

The state of Oregon has populations of all three species in question, and management plans for each. For black bears, the state seeks to maintain populations while providing opportunity for hunting. They also encourage preventative measures to reduce potential conflict later; they state that options become much more limited once bears become habituated to human presence and food, and they want to avoid the creation of problem bears (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2012). Oregonians in general are found to find satisfaction knowing that black bears live in their state (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2012). Hunting is opportunistic; in other words, hunting with dogs or bait specifically intended for bears is not allowed. This makes bear hunting less selective overall (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2012). Cougar management in Oregon is similar. The goals are to establish cougar numbers well above sustainable limits; because of these large numbers hunting has been permitted (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2006). Adaptive management is used to reconcile the diversity of public opinions about cougars, which are more mixed than they are for bears (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2006). They use education as do the other states, and Oregon has banned the use of dogs for cougars as well. As in New York, hunting is the primary management approach in Oregon. Finally, wolves in Oregon are not hunted but may be harassed, similar to Minnesota (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2010). Livestock owners must have a permit to take a wolf even if it is “in the act” of consuming livestock. The Department also encourages a strong education approach to make information available to those who seek it (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2010). As in Illinois, Oregon will not actively reintroduce wolves, but it does protect those that naturally disperse and focuses heavily on education. Additionally, Oregon is clear that wolf management must take into consideration the effects of wolves on other species and wolf management plans are not conducted in isolation from that of other species (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2010).

Washington has stable populations of black bears and cougars, as well as a recovering population of wolves. Management focuses on long-term perpetuation of the species, and there is a regulated hunting season for black bears and cougars[5]. For both, they also are involved in public education to minimize conflicts, and they do capture and relocate particularly offensive individuals5. Cougars are less likely to be relocated, and are more often euthanized if they become problem individuals. For wolves, the situation is different because they are listed as endangered under both federal and state laws. However, they do have protocols to deal with problem individuals either lethally or non-lethally, and the plans are created using a public process5. They include a citizen advisory group that has different stakeholders in order for multiple perspectives to be addressed. Washington also conducted a public opinion survey of wildlife management in general. They found that 14% of problems were related to bears, which were the third most common problem animal after deer and raccoons (Responsive Management National Office, 2014). The way that the department deals with conflicts is largely unknown to the public (28% have heard or seen something about this), and 88% of the public support legal, regulated hunting (Responsive Management National Office, 2014). There is general opposition to eliminating predators from Washington, and lethal removal of black bears is not looked upon favorably. Finally, there is a great deal of support for the recovery of wolves in Washington (Responsive Management National Office, 2014).

Finally, Wyoming has populations of all three carnivores. Black bears are hunted, and distinct from some of the other states, baiting is allowed in Wyoming (Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 2007). The Game and Fish Department explains that the use of bait can allow for greater selectivity, and reduces the number of female black bears killed by hunters. This is because the hunter can get closer to the bear and identify its gender and apparent age. Wyoming does compensate for loss of livestock. Education is used to help the public practice techniques that should prevent conflicts with bears; public opinion is polarized, so there are plans for renewed efforts to reach both sides (Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 2007). For cougars, source-sink management is used to reduce their numbers in areas where they might be more problematic but maintain populations in other parts of the state (Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 2006). Hunting is permitted with quotas, and problem individuals are addressed on a case-by-case basis that can include lethal removal. As with bears, selective hunting is allowed to reduce female mortality and also to prevent orphaned kittens. For cougars, this involves hunting with dogs (Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 2006). Education consists of modifying human behavior, which the department finds to be more effective than modifying predator behavior. In 2013, Wyoming allowed for some regulated hunting of wolves, because of large population growth. This approach varied by region to allow for increased protection where it was more needed (Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 2013). About 97 wolves were taken during this time period. However, the effects of this hunting season are unclear because the wolf was re-listed in 2014 and hunting in Wyoming ceased.

Midwestern States

States in the Midwestern United States have varying degrees of experience with the three large carnivores. As Illinois’ background has been discussed above, this section will consider the cases of Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Some of these states do have extensive histories with some of the carnivores, but their context in the Midwest is still relevant in this section.

Iowa is rather similar to Illinois, in that all three species historically existed in the state, although likely not in large numbers. Furthermore, there have been recent sightings (not all confirmed) of each of these species, leading the state to take some measures to create management plans. There have been multiple sightings of black bears in Iowa since around 2001; however, neither bears nor cougars are listed in the state Wildlife Code as they now are in Illinois (Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 2014). This lack of listing is a result of political conflicts between agriculture and the species in question (Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 2014). It is likely that the agricultural political base benefits from a lack of listing because this allows either species to be killed with no formal regulations or legislation if they are causing problems for agriculture. Still, the Iowa DNR supports the establishment of a policy, and argues that human tolerance will decide whether or not the bears return (2014). There have been over 2,000 mountain lion sightings since 2010 in Iowa, although not all of these are confirmed (Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 2014). Additionally, the Iowa DNR is clear in stating that it is not reintroducing the animal and that most sightings are of transient individuals. The DNR requested legislation to prevent indiscriminate killing, but this did not pass, as alluded to with the black bears. Still, as with the black bear, the DNR promotes human tolerance and issues informational material and holds public meetings to educate the public about the cougars (Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 2014). Finally, wolves actually are listed as furbearers (animals that can be a source of fur) in Iowa code, which is a historic vestige as a result of confusion between wolves and coyotes. Still, wolves cannot be hunted there today, and can only be killed if they are posing imminent threat to livestock. The state is now working on revising its Gray Wolf Management Plan, and most wolves are expected to be transient. There will likely not be many wolves in Iowa, but the Iowa DNR is now cautioning hunters to be careful when hunting coyotes so as not to mistakenly kill a wolf (Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 2014). This shows the rising concern over this species, and Iowa could be a useful partner to Illinois.

The state of Michigan has all three of the species in question, although cougars are uncommon. All are historically native to parts of the state. There are around 19,000 black bears in the state, predominantly in the Upper Peninsula, although their populations in the Lower Peninsula are growing (Michigan Department of Natural Resources, 2009). Hunting is allowed for bears (including the use of baits and dogs), and is organized with quotas for different zones called Bear Management Units. These zones are established so that the DNR can get information about bear populations across their entire range in the state (Michigan Department of Natural Resources, 2009). The DNR’s first priority is an appropriate population size, and it then focuses on social values and benefits. Listed benefits of bears in Michigan are: existence value, ecological role as predators, recreational viewing opportunities, and recreational hunting opportunities (Michigan Department of Natural Resources, 2009). Conflict management is purposely not abundance based because of variable conditions across the state. Instead, it is locally focused on a case-by-case basis, utilizing a prevention approach. Education is also used to foster public acceptance, especially in the southern part of the state where bears are newly entering. As mentioned, cougar populations are low and as such the state does not have a management plan for them (“Cougar”, 2015). Instead, they offer information on their website about the low numbers and safety measures in case of an encounter with a cougar. They do also have a link for reporting cougar sightings. Wolves are only found in the Upper Peninsula, and their numbers have been steadily growing since their reemergence in 1989; as of 2007 there were about 509 wolves in Michigan (Michigan Department of Natural Resources, 2008). There was one attempt at reintroduction of four wolves, but all of these died from direct human activities before they could reproduce. The management plan is very similar to that of black bears in terms of priorities and strategies. There is a minimum number of 200 wolves that takes into account the dispersal of wolves from Minnesota and Wisconsin (Michigan Department of Natural Resources, 2008). The stated benefits of wolves in Michigan are: ecological value as predators; cultural and religious value; opportunity for people to interact with nature; personal appreciation; and tourism (Michigan Department of Natural Resources, 2008). Management of conflict is handled in exactly the same was as that of black bears.

Ohio does not list the occurrence of either cougars or wolves. However, the black bear population is growing, with 89 bears thought to be in the state in 2011 (Black Bear Population Table, 2011). Researchers Zajac, Bruskotter, Wilson, and Prange (2012) have conducted a study on public acceptance of these bears that is relevant for the Illinois case. They found that it is important to weigh both perceived risk and benefit. Interestingly, trust in the management agency has a positive effect on acceptance of wildlife populations (Zajac et al. 2012). This suggests that maintaining positive relationships should be an important consideration in any management plan. Their second main observation is that a sense of personal control over risks helps to increase trust in the agency and also increase considerations of benefits that the species might bring (Zajac et al. 2012). Giving people agency over the risks prevents them from feeling helpless and makes living with these species more reasonable. Finally, the authors suggest highlighting the benefits that the species bring, instead of solely warning about risks (Zajac et al. 2012). This makes sense; if the only public information available is warning people what to do in the event that they are threatened by one of these animals, then people will think that any encounter is likely to lead to harm. While it is important to understand potential risks, when benefits are also part of the picture it becomes more possible to accept large carnivores.

To complete the list of states considered, Wisconsin offers direct and relevant expertise, especially since some of the individual carnivores might be coming to Illinois from that state. All three have been sighted, although cougars are rare. Black bears are quite common in the state, and as in other states where this is the case, hunting is a primary management tool. Most of the bears in 2013 were taken with bait, followed by those taken with use of dogs (Dhuey, MacFarland, and Kaminski, 2013). Of the 3,592 bears hunted that year, only 74 were taken without dogs or bait (Dhuey et al. 2013). The bear population is growing and spreading south, and in response the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has issued information to prevent conflicts. Most of this information consists of guidelines of how to respond if threatened by a bear, or how to prevent conflicts (“Living with Bears in Wisconsin”). The Department does refer to the benefit of this prevention in allowing the bears to persist in the state. As in Illinois, cougars seem to be transient males and there are no confirmed breeding populations (“Cougars in Wisconsin” 2014). There have been six confirmed male cougars since 2008, and the DNR provides links to information compiled by various organizations on how to best live with the animals. DNR Officers have also made themselves available to answer questions about cougars and educate the public. (“Cougars in Wisconsin” 2014). Wolves have recovered in Wisconsin, and Adrian Treves argues that this is a result of public approval more than a biological challenge (2008). Up until 2002, wolves recovered from 0 to 300 in the Great Lakes area without direct human involvement (Treves, 2008). This suggests that the animals are capable of recovering quickly, and a focus on the public is more strategically beneficial. This recovery comes in spite of bear hunters who were concerned for their dogs, and farmers who were concerned for their livestock. The state does compensate losses for livestock at over $100,000 annually since 2005 (Treves, 2008). For dogs, the WDNR stuck to compensating one incident per year per site, as a way to dissuade illegal wolf killing. Later, livestock and agriculture interests gained the right to kill wolves on private land if their livestock was threatened (Treves, 2008). The public was found to support compensation for livestock more than compensation for dogs, but even those compensated did not have more tolerance for wolves (Treves, 2008). Therefore, the public demand did shape some of the management, but Treves does commend the department in their actions to balance different interest groups and move forward with wolf recovery. He explains that this is a result of understanding the various arguments on a deep level in order to create policy that works.


The above state plans suggest a variety of points that should be considered when developing a new plan for these species. Additionally, academic research on the subject matter lends some perspective on the effectiveness of these plans and on relevant details. These two sources of information will be combined in this section to elaborate on five relevant themes: a focus on “people management,” a preventative approach, allowance of personal agency, hunting as a complicated tool, and the value of communicating benefits. Each could be elaborated upon in its own report; however, since this report serves as a summary I will focus on the main details and include the relevance to the situation in Illinois.

First, all plans engage in some form of “people management.” This term is used here to explain attempts to modify human behavior in order to allow for the presence of large carnivores while reducing human-animal conflict. Linnell et al. (2001) found that when human behavior is effectively regulated, there is no strong correlation between carnivore extirpation and human density. Often, this consists of providing general information about the animals, perhaps placing signs in an area where they have been seen recently. Along with this, managers can engage with citizens who they encounter while out in the field3; these conversations can help boost trust in an agency that is seen as valuable in Ohio (Zajac et al. 2012). Mattson et al. (2006) provides a thorough description of various perspectives that can arise in large carnivore preservation; what they all agreed upon was the value of promoting human tolerance and understanding. Thus, part of people management should be opinion surveys and evaluations to gauge levels of tolerance. These should be conducted carefully to avoid the predominance of a few loud voices. For example, the public overall tends to feel positively about black bears, but surveys need to be utilized to confirm this (Clark et al., 2002). This information is valuable because social factors such as peer influence can be more relevant to how people respond to carnivores; if they think all of their peers dislike the animals and kill them, they are more likely to do it themselves (Treves and Bruskotter, 2014). Additionally, even though education programs might be more acceptable and the effects valuable, they must be evaluated and implemented in certain ways. This should include performance indicators such as reduced amounts of nuisance complaints (Gore et al., 2006). Finally, proactive enforcement might be necessary to supplement education programs. This includes actions like posting warnings on dumpsters that do not follow bear-proof standards; once this is added to an education approach, effects have been seen to improve (Baruch-Mordo et al., 2011).

People management is part of a preventative approach that seems to be more effective than one that is responsive. In general, these preventative measures are cheaper and more publically accepted than what is typically done as a response. Responsive here refers to translocation or lethal action against problem animals; it should be clear that this should be an option but one that is minimized if possible. Translocation is a difficult issue for a variety of reasons. In order to be successful, it must involve moving the individual far enough away that it will not return, and placing it in a large suitable habitat (Linnell et al., 1997). Since black bears, wolves, and cougars all are capable of travelling large distances, it is entirely possible for them to return to the site where that they were extracted from. Black bears are the most commonly translocated large carnivore, and frequently the results have been homing behavior and increased mortality (Linnell et al., 1997). Furthermore, in areas where livestock is lightly protected, any carnivore could become a “problem individual” and selective control is more difficult (Linnell et al., 1999). However, when preventative approaches are included, most carnivores can be deterred. One concrete type of preventative approach beyond those used in people management is risk mapping. This involves mapping relevant conditions and determining the likelihood that there will be conflict in that area (Treves et al., 2011). For example, risk mapping in Wisconsin found that open land farther from forests but closer to wolf packs is riskier for livestock (Treves et al., 2011). As a result, preventing the raising of livestock in that area would reduce potential conflicts. Finally, preventative approaches are valuable economically. One responsive approach that is often utilized in the state plans above is compensation for damages from large carnivores. This is generally publically accepted, excluding compensation for hunting dogs, which is generally not publically supported. In Wisconsin, this compensation is used on losses from wolves, and it has reached over $100,000 a year (Treves et al., 2009). This detracts from funds for other endangered species. Additionally, donors support the compensation fund, and therefore any changes to wolf policy risk losing donors for an increasingly costly program.

As mentioned above, researchers in Ohio found that allowing a degree of personal agency was beneficial in ensuring effective management of large carnivores (Zajac et al. 2012). This requires the public taking responsibility for its actions, but they also have to be aware of how their actions can be effective in reducing conflicts (Hristienko and McDonald Jr., 2007). A benefit of this personal agency is an increase in tolerance; as people feel they have more control over a risk, they are no longer overwhelmed by it (Bruskotter and Wilson, 2013). This control can be in preventative approaches with people management as discussed above, or it could be the possibility to take an offending carnivore if it is acting in a dangerous way towards people or property. Various state plans allow taking or harassing even the protected wolf if the animal is in the act of stalking livestock, for example. One way to increase this is through collaboration with non-profits. In situations where the public does not trust the wildlife agency, non-profits could be useful for bridging the gap[6]. Non-profits like the Living with Wildlife Foundation can host workshops to teach people to use approaches like electric fencing and build up community connections6. This can include creating a calling tree where neighbors notify each other if a carnivore is in the area. A representative from that foundation explained that collaboration between agencies and non-profits can reach a wider group of people and utilize unique strengths in order to increase feelings of personal agency in communities.

Hunting is a complicated subject with a wide range of perspectives. Since hunting will likely not be a relevant issue in Illinois at least for some time, I will only briefly cover points that should be considered. The state plans above generally allow hunting of black bears and cougars when populations are large enough, but wolves have been protected under the Endangered Species Act, which prevents hunting. This hunting is often used as a management tool to maintain certain population sizes, especially when an agency does not have the funds or manpower to cover a large state or deal with a large population4. It clearly can be effective from a numerical population perspective, and it is often publically supported for recreational purposes. Baiting and hunting with dogs for both cougars and black bears is less often supported, despite their tendency to allow for more selective hunting (Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 2007). It is likely that these methods are seen as unfair. Baiting is claimed to habituate bears to human-provided food, but it is also a safer method as the hunter is often in an elevated stand (Hristienko and McDonald, Jr., 2007). Hunting with dogs is said to cause trauma to animals that are not ultimately killed, but again it does allow for improved selectiveness of animals taken (Hristienko and McDonald, Jr., 2007).

There are a variety of other considerations to take into account when deciding whether or not to allow hunting, or how to allow it. Oftentimes a primary reason to allow hunting is to reduce complaints about carnivores. However, hunting and complaints are not always connected in the way anticipated. In Wisconsin, black bears are hunted and relocated; years where this is more common do not result in less complaints, and sometimes there are even more complaints (Treves et al., 2010). This could be because bears under hunting pressure move out of forests to avoid hunters and move into more suburban areas (Treves et al., 2010). Additionally, the overall profile of hunted bears did not fit the profile of nuisance bears that were relocated, so the open system of hunting does not necessarily target the bears it is purported to (Treves et al., 2010).

In Washington, hunting has been seen to cause source-sink dynamics for cougars. This is because hunters operate in prime habitat and so every cougar killed is easily replaced, making this site a “sink” (Robinson et al., 2008). As this occurs, the incoming cougars are increasingly young males, because they are the most frequent dispersers (Robinson et al., 2008, and Peebles et al., 2013). This does not reduce complaints; in fact, each cougar killed led to a 50% increase in complaints, whereas each additional cougar living in an area led to a 5% increase in complaints (Peebles et al., 2013). Furthermore, complete removal through hunting in one year led to up to a 340% increase in complaints the next year (Peebles et al., 2013).

In Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, wolves can be killed if they are posing problems to livestock. Each wolf killed there led to a 5% increase in livestock depredation the next year (Wielgus and Peebles, 2014). This continues until 25% of the wolf population is killed, where depredation declines. 25% is too high for sustainable populations of wolves. This is explained by the killing of wolves breaking up packs and the formation of more breeding pairs, leading to increased depredation (Wielgus and Peebles, 2014). Finally, another argument supporting hunting is the “hunters as stewards” idea, where hunters advocate for protection of wildlife. This is true for certain animals, but a recent survey suggests that hunters who would approve of hunting wolves do not necessarily support their conservation (Treves and Martin, 2011). All of these points suggest that hunting is not as simple as it seems. While it may be warranted, and permissible as a recreational pursuit, it should be carefully developed to minimize the problems discussed above.

Finally, communicating the benefits of large carnivores as part of any management plan is a strong way to support tolerance and should be utilized. Researchers Bruskotter and Wilson (2013) explain this point well. They discuss how media and conservation scientists often distribute information on how to avoid risks, which of course is important. However, this primes people to inflate the real risk because of the focus on it (Bruskotter and Wilson, 2013). At the same time, risks must be included in order to maintain credibility. Black bears have been found to be most accepted when information presented about them includes their benefits for people and ways to minimize harm. Some of the benefits have been described above, and include the ability to set off a beneficial trophic cascade as in Yellowstone, the control of mesopredators like coyotes, and aesthetic or existence values that people have, knowing that the animals live in the state. Wolves might be the most difficult of the three species in communicating benefits because of the deeper fear that people have of them, but this could be a reason to focus efforts on wolves.

In conclusion, it is advisable for Illinois to proactively act in response to the new relevance of large carnivores to the area. Since they are unlikely to establish large populations with the currently available habitat for some time, hunting does not necessarily need to be a primary concern. Instead, people management should be a primary approach. This includes educating the public so that they can personally prevent conflicts and also understand the benefits that large carnivores can bring to an ecosystem. As most Illinois residents likely are unfamiliar with the species in question, this should help alleviate any undue fear. Fortunately, other states have experience with these animals, and their work can be a guide for Illinois moving forwards.


Jason Smith


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