Somehow, the long journey of a bison that has been roaming western Lake County since fall may be coming to an end.
Nicknamed “Tyson” and “Billie” at various times during his travels, the 1,300-pound creature that since April has been living in Lakewood Forest Reserve near Wauconda, no longer welcome.
Some argue that the animal poses a safety risk to riders and others.
Authorities at the Lake County Forest Preserve District agree and want the bison gone as soon as possible.
“Our main concern is safety. We don’t want anyone accidentally hurt – it’s a big creature,” said John Tannahill, Director of Public Safety.
“We want to get the animal off the property humanely before Memorial Day weekend,” he added.
The same goes for future keeper Scott Comstock, co-owner of Wauconda’s Milk and honey farm. The bison escaped while being delivered to the farm last year and were spotted hundreds of times in nearby communities before settling in Lakewood.
Tannahill said there was no specific timetable, but Comstock was put on notice. Since Monday, quotes of up to $500 per day are taken.
“It’s considered livestock and you can’t leave livestock in the forest reserve,” Tannahill said. “He must come up with a plan.”
Comstock said the fines were unnecessary and amounted to putting an “expiration date” on the bison if it was not caught.
More recently, Comstock, with the help of rangers, tried to lure the bison with food into a barn so he could be locked up and brought home to be with his sister at Milk and Honey.
They are about to close the barn door with the bison inside. But it was difficult to overcome the animal’s keen sense of smell, hearing and sight, Comstock said.
“She’s so smart and so alert that when you approach the door, she’s ahead of you,” he said.
Tranquilization of the animal was considered but was ruled out, according to Comstock, because its heart rate would increase.
“Everyone we spoke to said it was 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 cyclists.
Besides the fear of injury from spooked horses that may antagonize or knock down riders, riders say there are other considerations in having a stray wild animal.
“There are many ways people and animals react to something that is unnatural in the setting and could go wrong,” said Michelle Ford, a Palatine resident who rides in Lakewood.
“I hope nothing bad happens to the animal and I hope nothing bad happens to anyone else.”
The Lake County Mounted Posse Equestrian Club, founded in the 1950s, has temporarily suspended horseback riding in Lakewood, according to Lynn Goodell, board member and liaison with the Forest Preserve District.
“People think it’s a novelty,” she said. “They think it’s pretty cool. No, it’s not nice. What happens when someone gets killed?
The bison did not approach any humans, Tannahill said. But there is a sense of urgency with the summer season approaching.
“We need to remove him from the property as soon as possible,” he said.
Comstock admits the bison is big, but says it’s not a threat.
“She’s harmless unless she’s forced to do something. She didn’t attack any dogs, horses, or people,” he said. “My advice is to enjoy the view, take a picture and get on with your business.”