Lonely Planet Writer

Bison awaiting President's signature to become first national mammal for USA

The North American bison is on the brink of becoming the USA’s first national mammal.

Bison grazing in Yellowstone National Park are on the brink of becoming the first mammal of the USA.
Bison grazing in Yellowstone National Park are on the brink of becoming the first mammal of the USA. Image by Tony Hisgett / CC BY 2.0

The National Bison Legacy Act has been given the green light in both US houses. It will become law once it gets President Obama’s signature.  National Public Radio (NPR) reports that this will mean the bison is considered a “historical symbol of the United States.” It is also the official mammal of three states. Historically, through trade and sacred ceremonies, the animal already adorns two state flags.

A plains bison herd have come back from near extinction to have a presence across every state in the USA Image by Parks Canada via AP.
A plains bison herd have come back from near extinction to have a presence across every state in the USA Image by Parks Canada via AP.

The Washington Post claims that the bison had a variety of backers pushing its case. These included ranchers, conservationists and tribal groups like the InterTribal Buffalo Council. The council sought to restore bison to Indian nations as part of their spiritual and cultural beliefs and practices. Wildlife Conservation Society president, Cristián Samper, described the animal as an “icon that represents the highest ideals of America.” The Post reports that those ideals involved unity, resilience and healthy landscapes and communities.

The bison programme director with the Wildlife Conservation Society, Keith Aune, said the animal had a “special place in our history.” He told Here & Now there were many reasons they deserve this designation. They are economically important as part of a commercial industry and also produce quality red meat. Ecologically, the bison are entirely adapted to the plains with the way they graze. He pointed out that the animals comeback is also a remarkable story. They had been on the brink of extinction with only hundreds remaining, but now are back in their natural habitat. The Post says they are now populated in every state while 20,000 live on public lands.