SPRINGFIELD, Ill.–Bobcats, armadillos, urban coyotes, black bears, wolves and mountain lions. The wildlife of Illinois certainly has grown more varied and interesting in 21st Century.
Bob Bluett, a wildlife biologist focused on wildlife diversity, has worked for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources long enough to span the change, long enough to even change his mind on a few things.
And he’s around long enough to accept the track of changing wildlife policy. Last month I sat with Bluett and we discussed the changing critter landscape with a focus on bobcats.
(This is an extended online version of my Sunday column on the Sun-Times outdoors page and includes the notes package at the bottom. The photo of the stalking bobcat at the top is from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.)
Bluett has been part of the process, ongoing for a decade, to establish a hunting/trapping season for bobcats. His job is on the technical/data side. The issue appeared settled when the General Assembly passed a bill last year allowing a limited hunting/trapping season for bobcats.
But, among the string of bizarre political moves in his final days, former Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the bill. Virtually the same bill–reintroduced as HB0352–is working through the General Assembly again with bipartisan support.
“I have been around long enough that I respect the democratic process,” Bluett said. “I can provide the information, but I am not the decision maker.
“I might not agree with something from my biological perspective, but I can’t argue with what made our country great.”
In this case, I would argue. But I digress.
Bluett sees a half-full glass. The decade it has taken to establish a bobcat season has allowed the population to expand into every Illinois county.
“Now, we have enough bobcats and in enough places that we can manage to have a sustainable harvest without having crazy or hard to understand regulations,” Bluett said.
Population estimates, currently 5,000, are based on population models by Southern Illinois University. There is data based on road kill and animals accidentally trapped, which gives an idea of how many young are being born and age structure.
“On less quantitatively level, we have archery survey,” Bluett said.
Any one who kills a deer knows one of the questions asked is about bobcats when reporting the deer. Bluett said in those reports there have been bobcat “sightings in every county with a firearm deer in the last five years.”
There’s also been some grid studies with trail cams.
Trail cams are one of the most interesting changes in the tracking of the return of animals not seen in many years in Illinois.
Many of them, such as wolves and mountain lions can move virtually unseen. Until the use of trail cams exploded.
“With the number of trail cams, as people send in pictures, you can almost track the path of animals,’’ Bluett said. “There are not that many roaming around, you can almost assume they are same animal.’’
ARMADILLOS: Armadillos, once considered a likely prank by college students returning from points south, are established enough to add to the road-kill report. Bluett said there is enough to count in Calhoun, where there is a reproducing population. Armadillos are more concentrated in western counties than eastern ones and as far north as Menard County.
EXCISE TAX: “We have a solid base of hunters and trappers, who pay an excise tax every time they buy a gun or bow and it is allocated to do a better job of managing species,’’ Bluett noted.
Because of that, he said, “We have been able to do some awesome studies on wildlife in Illinois.’’
URBAN/SUBURBAN COYOTES: On the advance and adaptation of coyotes, especially in urban and suburban areas, Bluett noted, “Not all coyotes are bad coyotes, but there are such things as bad coyotes.’’
WOLVES/BEARS: For years I’ve asked Bluett which of the three large carnivores–wolves, mountain lions or black bears–would establish a population in Illinois and he always said black bears, because they are more adaptable to the Illinois landscape and are just across the river in Missouri to our north in Wisconsin.
“I was always a bears fan, but now I would guess wolves,’’ he said. “There is plenty of good habitat for them.’’
And he also noted, “That they can move across the landscape without people seeing them.’’ Bears, on the other hand, are quite noticeable when they move.
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SPRING TROUT (FLY FISHING)
The northern Illinois sites for the catch-and-release fly fishing-only early season, opening Saturday, March 21 are Rock Creek in Kankakee River State Park, Apple River in Apple Creek SP and Pine Creek in White Pines SP. Fly fishermen, see Brian Clerkin (above),have plied the scenic waters of Apple River for years.
March 28-29: Wonder Lake, (815) 653-4136
April 2 and 4: Marengo (815) 568-5126
April 7, 9, 14, 16: Downers Grove (630) 963-1300
April 11-12: Gurnee, registration begins Monday (847) 856-1229
Friday: West Suburban dinner, Willowbrook Ballroom, Willow Springs. Contact Keith Bucholz, (630) 364-9377
NATIONAL WILD TURKEY FEDERATION
Friday: Cook County Turkey Baggers banquet, Chicago South Elks Lodge, Crestwood. Contact Carleton Rendel, (708) 349-8862 or email@example.com
Saturday: Kendall County Gobblers banquet, Yorkville American Legion. Contact Tammi Schleining, (630) 385-2288 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday: Capt. Bob Jenkins on Lake Michigan salmon, bass and perch, Arlington Anglers Fishing Club, Hoffman Estates’ Cabela’s, 6:30 p.m., arlingtonanglers.com.
Thursday: Dave Mull on small boats on Lake Michigan, Fish Tales Fishing Club, Bremen Township Building, Oak Forest, 7 p.m., fishtalesfishingclub.com
E: “I saw a sure sign of spring: Fellow backing his brand new bass boat into his driveway. It was shining like a silver dollar. That cheered me up and I went home and purchased this year’s fishing license.’’ Tom Turek
A: Something was in the air Wednesday (spring?). I bought both Illinois and Indiana licenses.
2.49: Pounds of Illinois’ record whitefish, caught May 8, 2012 by Capt. Tim Wojnicz off Waukegan.
“Not the smartest thing, to put yourself in that position. Hopefully they learned a lesson.’’
Willie Hargrove, Racine fire department battalion chief, via CBC News, on two teenagers rescued from a tiny ice floe on Lake Michigan last week