U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) today announced that the president has signed into law legislation they introduced designating the bison as the U.S. national mammal. The bipartisan bill, the National Bison Legacy Act, also recognizes the historical, economic, and cultural significance of the bison, as well as its importance to many Native American tribes as a sacred and spiritual symbol of their heritage.
"Recognition of our new national mammal will bring a new source of pride for Americans-just like the bald eagle-and also bring greater attention to ongoing species recovery efforts," said Sen. Heinrich. "Bison are a uniquely American animal and are the embodiment of American strength and resilience. The bison has been an important part of our culture for many generations, especially in New Mexico, across the West, and in Indian Country. I hope that in my lifetime, thanks to a broad coalition of ranchers, wildlife advocates, and tribal nations, we will see bison return to the prominent place they once occupied in our nation's shortgrass prairies."
"The bison is now officially the U.S. National Mammal and rightfully so," said Sen. Hoeven. ‘Bison are strong, proud and free, and a truly American icon with an incredible story. These noble creatures were brought back from the brink of extinction in our nation's first great conservation effort. They are also an important spiritual symbol for many Native Americans. So, for all Americans, the bison is the right choice to be our national mammal. We look forward to honoring our new national mammal - hopefully with a live bison - at an induction ceremony in our nation's capital."
Senators Heinrich and Hoeven introduced the Senate bill and it was unanimously approved by the Senate last December. The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill in late April, and the Senate concurred with the House bill, then sent it to the president for signature. The senators thanked the Vote Bison Coalition, which is led by the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, National Bison Association, and Wildlife Conservation Society, for supporting the legislation. The coalition counts more than 50 businesses, tribal groups, and organizations who have banded together to support efforts to celebrate bison.
More than 40 million bison once roamed across most of North America. But by the late 1800s, fewer than one thousand bison remained. 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 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt and the American Bison Society led an effort to save the bison from extinction by establishing a captive breeding program at the Bronx Zoo. Within a few years, the program and others like it, were successfully establishing bison back into their native habitat. Bison now live 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. [press release]