Earlier this week, Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi introduced a bill to congress that seeks to make the bison America’s “national mammal.” The bill, which is officially titled the National Bison Legacy Act, was brought before lawmakers at the request of the Wildlife Conservation Society and seems to have wide support from both sides of aisle.
If the act becomes law, the bison would be granted a similar status as the bald eagle, the oak tree and the rose as official national symbols of the United States. Beyond that there would be very little direct effect, although that doesn’t deter the sponsors of the bill. They see the bison as an important part of American heritage dating back to a time when only Native Americans occupied the region.
The bison is the largest land animal in North America and their vast herds once numbered in the millions. At their peak, those herds covered the Great Plains, ranging from the Rocky Mountains to as far east as the Appalachians. But as settlers moved west the animals were hunted for their meat and fur, bringing them to the brink of extinction. In the early 1900s President Teddy Roosevelt, working with several conservation groups, played an instrumental role in saving them from that fate. Today the bison population is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands, some of which are domesticated, and healthy herds can be found in places like Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks.
Although this piece of legislation doesn’t carry much weight, supporters say that it will still make American’s more aware of the role the bison has played in the country’s history and will help create support for further protecting the creatures and their natural environments.