WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) announced that the United States Senate unanimously passed the National Bison Legacy Act, which designates the American bison as the national mammal of the United States. The bill also recognizes the historical, cultural, and economic significance of the bison, the largest land mammal in America.
"Bison hold a rich historic and cultural significance for the United States, and in particular for our tribal nations," Heinrich said. "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 bison has for many years been a symbol of America for its strength, endurance and dignity, reflecting the pioneer spirit of our nation," Hoeven said. "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."
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 bison from extinction by establishing a captive breeding program at the Bronx Zoo. Within a few years, the program, and others like it, were already successfully establishing bison back into its native habitat.
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 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.