Bison are on track to become the United States’ national mammal. (Photo: Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society)
Update: On May 9 the White House announced that President Obama had signed the National Bison Legacy Act, officially making it the national mammal of the United States.
They want to preserve a home where the buffalo roam.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Bison Legacy Act Tuesday to make the American bison the official national mammal, and the Senate is expected to adopt the bill later this week. Afterward, all that’s needed is President Obama’s John Hancock.
Under the bill, the first Saturday of November will be dubbed National Bison Day, giving conservationists a designated day to celebrate the animal and raise its profile among the general population. The bill does not affect any policy or action by the federal government.
“It’s a way to do good things for bison in North America without a massive regulatory hammer. It’s a symbolic thing, but it really brings a lot of opportunities to raise the profile of this species for the American public,” Keith Aune, director of the bison conservation program for the Wildlife Conservation Society, said in an interview with Yahoo Politics.
According to the National Bison Legacy Act, Congress finds “bison can play an important role in improving the types of grasses found in landscapes to the benefit of grasslands.” (Photo: Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society)
To justify the newfound status, Congress listed, among many reasons, the historical use of bison as a symbol of the United States and the mammal’s links to the economic and spiritual lives of many Native American tribes.
Bison are considered the first major conservation success story on earth. At the turn of the 20th century, the bison population had dwindled to about 1,000. Concerned citizens, including American icon and President Teddy Roosevelt, formed the American Bison Society to help relocate 15 bison from the Bronx Zoo to a refuge in Oklahoma, from which the animal could start to repopulate the West.
Aune said the conservation effort moved along slowly at first, but a wave of commercial interest propelled it forward in the mid-20th century.
“We know they are a healthy red meat that’s low in cholesterol and high in omega-3s. There are commercial bison in all 50 states, privately owned for meat production,” he said.
The Wildlife Conservation Society continues to work on growing the bison population in the West alongside the InterTribal Buffalo Council and the National Bison Association. These organizations are interested in preserving the mammal for cultural reasons and for ranching and production purposes, respectively.
But, Aune said, the conservationists realized that many Americans are not terribly familiar with bison and do not feel a particular connection with them. The National Bison Legacy Act might rally more people around their cause.
Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., introduced the bill on June 25, 2015. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., has called a press conference for Friday morning where he’s expected to announce that the bill is more or less a done deal.