'Our major concern is safety': Officials want Tyson the bison gone by Memorial Day
One way or another, the long journey of a bison that has been roaming western Lake County since fall may be nearing an end.
Nicknamed “Tyson” and “Billie” at various points in her travels, the 1,300-pound creature who, since April, has been living at the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda, no longer is welcome.
Some contend the animal poses a safety risk to equestrians and others.
Authorities with the Lake County Forest Preserve District agree and want the bison gone sooner rather than later.
“Our major concern is safety. We don't want anybody accidentally injured — it's a big creature,” said John Tannahill, director of public safety.
“We want to get the animal off the property humanely before the Memorial Day weekend,” he added.
So does would-be keeper Scott Comstock, co-owner of Wauconda's Milk and Honey Farmstead. The bison escaped as it was being delivered to the farm last year and has been sighted hundreds of times in nearby communities before settling in at Lakewood.
Tannahill said there is no specific timetable, but Comstock has been put on notice. As of Monday, citations of up to $500 per day are being levied.
“It's considered livestock and you can't leave livestock in the forest preserve,” Tannahill said. “He needs to come up with a plan.”
Comstock said fines were unnecessary and amounted to putting an “expiration date” on the bison if it isn't caught.
Most recently, Comstock, with the help of forest preserve rangers, has been trying to lure the bison with food into a barn so it can be enclosed and taken home to be with her sister at Milk and Honey.
They've gotten very close to shutting the barn door with the bison inside. But it has been difficult to overcome the animal's keen sense of smell, hearing and eyesight, Comstock said.
“She is so smart and so alert that when you get close to the door, she beats you to it,” he said.
Tranquilizing the animal was considered but was ruled out, according to Comstock, because her heart rate would increase.
“Everybody we talked to said it's very dangerous,” he said.
Lakewood has the only horse-only trails in the Lake County Forest Preserve system. There are several barns nearby and the trails are used regularly by dozens of riders.
Besides the fear of injury from spooked horses that may buck or throw riders, equestrians say there are other considerations with having a wild animal roaming around.
“There are many ways people and animals reacting to something that's not natural to the setting that could turn out badly,” said Michelle Ford, a Palatine resident who rides at Lakewood.
“I hope nothing bad happens to the animal and I hope nothing bad happens to anyone else.”
The Lake County Mounted Posse horse club, founded in the 1950s, temporarily has suspended riding at Lakewood, according to Lynn Goodell, a board member and liaison to the forest preserve district.
“People think it's a novelty,” she said. “They think it's kind of neat. No, it's not neat. What happens when someone gets killed?”
The bison hasn't approached any humans, Tannahill said. But there is a sense of urgency with the summer season approaching.
“We need to get it off the property as soon as possible,” he said.
Comstock admits the bison is large, but says she's not a threat.
“She's harmless unless she's forced into something. She hasn't attacked any dogs, any horses, any people,” he said. “My advice is enjoy the view, take a picture and go on with your business.”