Senate Passes Bill to Make Bison Our National Mammal
WASHINGTON (December 4, 2015) – The Vote Bison Coalition hailed the Senate passage of the National Bison Legacy Act as a major step toward officially recognizing one of America’s most iconic animals as the National Mammal of the United States.
The bill has been introduced in three consecutive Congresses, but this is the first time it has passed either house. The bill was introduced by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) along with a bipartisan group of 11 co-sponsors, with the support of more than 50 organizations, businesses and tribes in the Vote Bison Coalition. A version of the bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Kristi Noem (R-SD) and José Serrano (D-NY).
Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) said, “The bison, like the bald eagle, has for many years been a symbol of America for its strength, endurance and dignity, reflecting the pioneer spirit of our country. It makes sense for this noble animal to serve as our national mammal. The National Bison Legacy Act recognizes the important cultural and economic role the bison has played in our history, in North Dakota and across our nation.”
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) said, “Bison hold a rich historic and cultural significance for the United States, and in particular for our tribal nations. They represent resiliency and are an enduring symbol of American strength. Recognition of our new national mammal will bring greater attention to the ongoing effort to conserve this unique species.”
The Vote Bison Coalition, led by steering committee members the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, National Bison Association and Wildlife Conservation Society, formed in 2012 to make bison the National Mammal and to celebrate National Bison Day annually on the 1st Saturday of November. The coalition counts more than 50 businesses, tribal groups and organizations who have banded together to support efforts to celebrate bison.
John Calvelli, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, said, “We are truly appreciative that the Senate has recognized the iconic nature of the American bison by passing the National Bison Legacy Act. This animal, which has played such a unique role in our nation’s conservation and cultural history, is truly deserving of a place of honor as our national mammal. I urge the House of Representatives to take similar action and pass this bipartisan legislation to celebrate an American icon.”
Jim Stone, Executive Director of the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, said: “The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council and our 60 Member Tribes have a long standing relationship with the buffalo that is based on honoring and respecting the buffalo. The NBLA is consistent with that relationship and we are very proud to be a part of this effort and thankful for the support shown by everyone involved in this effort.”
Dave Carter, Executive Director of the National Bison Association, said: “Bison ranchers appreciate the Senate's action to recognize the importance of this majestic animal, not only as a cultural icon, but also as a growing part of American agriculture and the American diet.”
Keith Aune, WCS Senior Conservationist, said: “The American Bison represents an important symbol of our countries history and the birth of a unique conservation movement. Bison are worthy of this significant recognition from the U.S. Senate and the people they represent. This Senate action is well fitted with the great advances we are making in bison conservation for the 21st Century.”
About the American bison
Bison have an important role in America’s history, culture and economy. Before being nearly wiped from existence by westward expansion, bison roamed across most of North America. The species is acknowledged as the first American conservation success story, having been brought back from the brink of extinction by a concerted effort of ranchers, conservationists and politicians to save the species in the early 20th century. In 1907, President Teddy Roosevelt and the American Bison Society began this effort by shipping 15 animals by train from the Bronx Zoo to Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Many Native American tribes revere bison as a sacred and spiritual symbol of their heritage and maintain private bison herds on tribal lands throughout the West. Bison now exist in all 50 states in public and private herds, providing recreation opportunities for wildlife viewers in zoos, refuges and parks and sustaining the multimillion dollar bison ranching and production business.
Bison currently appear on two state flags, on the seal of the Department of the Interior, and on U.S. currency. In addition, bison have been adopted as the state mammal of Wyoming and the state animal of Oklahoma and Kansas. The bison is the nation’s most culturally recognizable mammal and as such deserves recognition through designation and celebration.
Bison continue to sustain and provide cultural value to Native Americans and Indian Tribes. More than 60 tribes are working to restore bison to over 1,000,000 acres of Indian lands in South Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Montana, and other states. Today, bison remain integrally linked with the spiritual lives of Native Americans through cultural practices, social ceremonies and religious rituals.
Bison production on private ranches is in its strongest economic condition in more than a decade. The total value of privately owned bison on more than 2,500 bison ranches in the U.S. was estimated to exceed $280 million in 2013. Bison ranches in states including South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Texas, Colorado, and Montana create jobs, provide a sustainable and healthy meat source, and contribute to our nation’s food security.
The bison, North America’s largest land mammal, once roamed the continent freely, helping sustain plains and prairie ecosystems as a keystone species through grazing, fertilization, trampling and other activities. Bison shaped the vegetation and landscape as they fed on and dispersed the seeds of grasses, sedges, and forbs. Several bird species adapted to or co-evolved with types of grasses and vegetation structures that had been, for millennia, grazed by millions of free-ranging bison.