The American bison, the massive animals that once dominated the United States but were almost hunted to extinction, may soon become the country's first national mammal.
The House of Representatives has passed the National Bison Legacy Act on April 26, hoping that the Senate will adopt the legislation within the week. The signature of the President would then officialize recognition of the American bison as one of the symbols to represent the country.
The mammal will join other national symbols such as the bald eagle, which is the country's national bird. This new law would represent the country's first successful venture into wildlife conservation.
The bill will help recognize bison's cultural, ecological, economic and historical importance in the country.
"The Wildlife Conservation Society, including its flagship zoological park, the Bronx Zoo, and all our partners in the Vote Bison Coalition are grateful to the U.S. House of Representatives for working to pass the National Bison Legacy Act. The National Bison Legacy Act, once enacted, will declare the bison as our nation's first national mammal ever," said Cristián Samper, Wildlife Conservation Society's President.
Bison's Population Has Recovered
In the past, an estimated 20 to 30 million bison once roamed across North America and played a pivotal role in shaping the ecology of the Great Plains. Unregulated hunting and habitat loss have decimated the population to just merely 1,091 in 1889.
With conservation plans in place in the country since then, the population has recovered to about 500,000 in North America with about 350,000 living in its 50 states. These bison, however, are not pure wild ones as they have been cross-bred with cattle and are now semi-domesticated after being raised as livestock.
Approximately fewer than 5,000 are not living in fenced facilities. Some are found in natural areas, parks and refuges but most of them live in private ranches. The WCS reiterated that the only way to prevent bison's extinction is to expand existing herds and reinstate them to their natural habitats or open territories.
This is not the first time that the House has voted to recognize the massive mammal. In 2014, Tim Johnson, South Dakota's former Senator, authored a bill to adopt bison as the national mammal.