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Bear captured and euthanized after attacking man in Mt Emily Recreation Area near La Grande; victim is recovering

Union County Sheriff’s Office
Oregon Fish and Wildlife 

May 24, 2023

LA GRANDE, Ore.—The Union County Sheriff’s Office, ODFW and Oregon State Police responded to a bear attack this morning in the Mount Emily Recreation Area near La Grande. 

According to Craig Lankford of La Grande, the victim, he had shot a bear the previous evening (May 23) while the bear had harassed his chickens. This morning, he went to search for the bear, encountered it near his property, and shot it again. Shortly afterwards, the bear attacked him. 

At about 7:37 a.m. this morning (May 24), 911 dispatch received a call of a bear attack on a person at Owsley Canyon Road. Sheriff Deputies responded to the area and arrived at the same time as medical services. The Union County Sheriff’s Office took immediate action by closing roads and the adjoining Mount Emily Recreation Area, knowing there was an injured bear in the area. The Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife were notified. All notified agencies arrived a short time later and promptly made a plan to search for the bear.  

At about 10:44 am and with assistance from USDA Wildlife Services, a bear consistent with the victim’s description and near the site of the attack was located and euthanized (shot). A necropsy was later performed and bullet fragments consistent with the victim’s report confirmed that the bear taken was the one involved in the attack. 

The victim suffered injuries to his arms and head but is expected to recover after being treated today at a hospital in La Grande. 

“We are grateful Mr. Lankford survived this encounter and wish him a smooth and speedy recovery,” said ODFW Watershed Manager Jeff Yanke.  

Wounded bears can be dangerous. ODFW is aware of at least three incidents when wounded bears attacked hunters who had shot but not killed them. None were fatal.  

Bear attacks are rare but tend to occur when bears are wounded, when they are being fed by people and lose their natural wariness, or when they are surprised by people or their dogs. Oregon has not documented any fatal bear attacks.  

Oregon is home to an estimated 25,000-30,000 bears. Everyone recreating outdoors or living in bear country is encouraged to take simple steps to reduce the risk of bear encounters and conflict. More information is available at  

The Union County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for their quick response and partnership in this situation.



Ken Woodward, Union County Sheriff (541) 963-1017
Michelle Dennehy, ODFW, (503) 931-2748,

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