US designates new national emblem

With the signing of the National Bison Legacy Act on Monday, President Obama raised the North American bison to a grade shared only by the bald eagle.

Both Houses of Congress passed legislation in April after a movement beginning in 2012 among the Intertribal Buffalo Council, National Bison Association and Wildlife Conservation Society began advocating for the mammal to be designated as a national symbol.

The bill, in part, read:  “(The bison is a) historical symbol of the United States” and it is “integrally linked with the economic and spiritual lives of many Indian tribes through trade and sacred ceremonies.”

Describing the cultural and historical impact of the bison, Keith Aune, bison program director with the Wildlife Conservation Society, stated:

“For us, there are several really important reasons we think bison deserve this designation. First off, it’s a very economically important animal. There’s a tremendous commercial industry, and it’s a tremendous good red meat. And it also is ecologically very important. Our healthy prairies are really dependent on not just any grazing, but the right type of grazing – and bison are entirely adapted to the Great Plains and create that scenario.”

From a population estimated at over 60 million prior to the year 1500, and ranging from Canada to northern Mexico with a majority of the population existing in present-day United States, bison were hunted to near extinction and the population dwindled to approximately 1,000 by 1900.

Conservation efforts began shortly after and the animal’s numbers rose to over 10,000 by 1920.

Presently, over 250,000 bison thrive in private herds and an additional 25,000 roam public lands and National Parks.

“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,” read a statement from Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), who sponsored the bill.

Besides being an awe-inspiring animal of symbolic and historic significance, point seven of the bill states that the bison’s grazing habits also “can play an important role in improving the types of grasses found in landscapes to the benefit of grasslands”.

 

[The Hill] [Photo courtesy toromagazine]