GENOA – Something unexpected crossed the road in front of Genoa resident Steve Kleba near the intersection of routes 72 and 23 on Wednesday morning.
He pulled over and took photographs of an American black bear, which state officials and law enforcement believe is the same animal recently spotted in Rockford, in Freeport and across northern Illinois.
"It's a black bear in DeKalb County, how surprised would you be?" Kleba said. "When it crossed the road, I knew right away it wasn't a deer or a coyote. I turned around, and sure enough, it was a bear."
A deputy from the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office was later called to the area and saw the bear multiple times. It likely weighs between 250 and 300 pounds and would stand 6 feet tall if it were on its hind legs.
"This bear seems nonaggressive and hasn't been aggressive with people or property," Sheriff Roger Scott said. "He is moving around and we are monitoring his movements, but as long as he is nonaggressive, we are going to let him be a bear."
The bear was later found near Derby Line Road in a heavily wooded area close to the Ellwood Greens housing development. At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, a caller reported seeing the bear near Lukens and Plank roads in Sycamore.
Members of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources also were called to assist in monitoring the bear, which they believe has traveled pretty extensively in the past week.
A person near Rockford spotted a bear eating berries outside Saturday. Early Sunday morning, Roscoe police spotted a bear, too. On Monday, Ogle County Sheriff’s personnel unsuccessfully searched for a black bear that a resident reported seeing roaming in the western part of the county.
"We are assuming it's the same bear," said Hank Frazier, Region 1 commander for the IDNR. "It was at a bird feeder on Memorial Day weekend. That seems to be its M.O., it goes to bird feeders, cleans them out and then takes off. It hasn't been aggressive or caused any problems."
The increase in bear sightings is not unexpected in the greater Chicago area, said Seth Magle, director of the Urban Wildlife Institute at Lincoln Park Zoo.
"This is something that is not going to be a flash in the pan, but rather increase as we continue to green our urban spaces," he said. "[Green spaces] are a good thing, but attract wildlife. We need to start investigating management strategies, and what to do when this happens."
Frazier believes the bear may have come from Wisconsin.
"We caution everyone not to approach it, leave it alone and, hopefully, it will eventually move its way north," he said. "If it becomes aggressive or hostile, we would have to take action, but right now, we hope it continues to stick to itself. My biggest concern is that it heads east and ends up in the more metropolitan areas."
As bears go, the black bear is pretty timid, Magle said, adding that most bears found in the area come from the north.
"They avoid people the vast majority of the time and are scavengers that don't move huge distances," he said. "This bear seems to be getting around quite a bit, but they are among the most timid and shy of the bears. That doesn't mean approach it, but it is looking to avoid people."
The black bear is the smallest of the three bears species found in North America, and can live into the teens. They are omnivorous, eating plants, fruits, nuts, insects, honey, salmon, small mammals and carrion. In northern regions, they eat spawning salmon.
Residents in the area are advised to take precautions, such as closely supervising pets and small animals when they're outside, taking down bird feeders, and not leaving any kind of food outside.