Bulk of bison herd removed from MERA

Written by Kelly Ducote / The Observer October 07, 2013 10:50 am

Remaining animals may be shot, though meat will still be harvested 

About 20 head of roaming bison were removed from the La Grande area last week, according to the animals’ owner.

The animals are part of a herd that has been roaming near the Mt. Emily Recreation Area. Union County closed MERA Aug. 14 because of public safety concerns surrounding the loose bison.

The closure includes non-motorized trails and trailheads at Owsley Canyon and Upper and Lower Igo Lane. The Foxhill Trailhead is open for motorized use only.

Tom Epler, the new owner of the roaming bison, said the process of getting the animals moved is going slower than he anticipated. He began working with the herd in early September to get them hauled away.

“The remaining animals are going to probably have to be shot,” Epler said. “They’re just too wild.”

Last Tuesday when Epler’s crew got 20 head corralled, another group in the herd split off in another direction. One cow took off running when they were being put in the corral. About seven or eight animals remain.

“You’ve got to go for the bigger group,” Epler said.

Though some of the animals will have to be shot, the bison rancher said the meat can still be harvested.

“They’re definitely not going to be wasted,” Epler said.

A court order made Epler owner of the herd when the bison are loaded up onto a trailer. Due to the struggle with getting them loaded, however, the judge’s order was changed to allow Epler to harvest the animals. Now Epler is waiting to get permission from the property owners where the bison are roaming to shoot the animals.

The time-consuming ordeal, Epler hopes, will end within the next week.

“I like La Grande and all,” he said. “I’ve got to do some work at home.”

Epler said he is grateful for the people who have helped with the situation.

“You don’t know how thankful we are for the people of La Grande,” he said. “There’s just a lot of people, I didn’t even get to know their names.”

County officials have said the recreation area will be reopened once the bison are removed or are securely contained. Commissioner Steve McClure said last week after the bulk of the herd was removed that he hopes that will be soon.

Contact Kelly Ducote at 541-786-4230 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Kelly on Twitter @lgoDucote.