SPRINGFIELD, ILL. - Despite repeated promises to provide evidence backing up his claims of a wild cougar population in Illinois and a release of the animals into the wild by state and federal officials, Virgil Smith has failed to do so.
Department of Natural Resources Director Brent Manning and several staff members met with Mr. Smith in mid-October at Smith^s request.
"Repeated requests not withstanding, Mr. Smith failed once again to produce just one piece of irrefutable, tangible evidence to support his allegations," Manning said. "We believe he hasn^t produced such evidence for one simple reason -- he doesn^t have any."
DNR officials emphatically and categorically denied any knowledge that the state of Illinois or the DNR specifically have participated in a cougar release effort. At the meeting and in correspondence dated Aug. 28, 2000, Mr. Smith agreed to discontinue his allegations of wrongdoing directed at the DNR or the state of Illinois. Moreover, when requested by Illinois State Police Director Sam Nolen to provide evidence of state participation in any purported release, no information was provided by Mr. Smith. However, since the meeting Mr. Smith has continued his unfounded accusations.
Mr. Smith contends there is a population of 250 to 300 cougars living in the wild in Illinois and that state and federal officials have participated in a secret release of the animals.
As early as 1998, the IDNR urged Mr. Smith to share his alleged evidence with state biologists. "In telephone calls, letters and now a face to face meeting we have asked Mr. Smith to show us his evidence," Manning said. "Time and time again he has promised to prove his claims and time and time again he has failed to do so."
Jeff Ver Steeg, Chief of IDNR^s Division of Wildlife Resources, noted that more than 150,000 hunters took to the woods in recent weeks for the firearm deer season and the IDNR has not received a single piece of evidence to suggest that a wild population of cougars exists in the state.
"If Mr. Smith^s claims were true, we would be hearing about it," Ver Steeg said.
Mountain lions were native to Illinois, but were extirpated from the state by about the mid-1800s. There are no known wild populations currently in Illinois.