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Bison that got loose from Gary Price’s ranch on Mount Glen Road roam last month on private land just south, and adjacent to the Mt. Emily Recreation Area. (Phil Bullock/The Observer)
Union County officials say the bison roaming around the Mt. Emily Recreation Area have a new owner who hopes to have the animals contained soon.
Union County Commissioner Steve McClure said the ownership changed hands following a court hearing two weeks ago.
Tom Epler arrived in La Grande Thursday afternoon to get the herd corralled.
“I had a serious conversation with him that we couldn’t let this continue,” McClure said. “We’ve got to get them out of there and get MERA opened.”
County officials closed MERA Aug. 14 over concerns with the roaming bison, which had gotten loose near the southeast corner of the recreation area. The closure includes non-motorized trails and trailheads at Owsley Canyon and Upper and Lower Igo Lane. The Foxhill Trailhead has been open for motorized use.
McClure had said that the bison posed a potential safety threat to recreationers, especially those walking dogs.
Epler has already put panels in the region to corral the bison and get them in a trailer, McClure said. The commissioner said Epler is a bison rancher with knowledge in how to handle the animals.
Though MERA has been closed for more than three weeks, MERA Coordinator Sean Chambers said the closure isn’t unprecedented.
Last year, the area was closed for about a month and a half due to high fire danger, Chambers said.
Closure notices were posted at trailheads, but Chambers said they don’t close any gates.
“It’s a recommendation,” he said. “There are always hazards out there. This was something out of the norm for this area so we wanted to bring it to the public’s attention.”
Though he said many people seemed to be recreating as usual, he said he would recommend people remove themselves from the situation if they encounter a bison.
“They’re pretty intimidating beasts,” he said.
Chambers said there was a potential that storms Wednesday night had scattered the herd, but that they hope to have the animals contained and off the property soon.
“We’re hoping within this next week,” he said.