Senate Bill Introduced to Make Bison the National Mammal of the United States
National Bison Legacy Act Led by Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)
Bill Recognizes the Cultural, Economic, Historical and Ecological Contributions of America’s Largest Land Mammal
Washington, D.C. – June 11, 2014 – The Vote Bison Coalition today applauded the introduction of legislation in the U.S. Senate to officially recognize bison as the National Mammal of the United States.
The bill, titled the National Bison Legacy Act, was introduced by Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) along with a bipartisan group of 12 original co-sponsors, with the support of more than 50 organizations, businesses and tribes in the Vote Bison Coalition. The Senate bill joins a companion version, H.R. 3400, introduced in the House of Representatives last year by Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE).
Bison have an important role in America’s history, culture and economy. Before being nearly wiped from existence by westward expansion, bison roamed across most of North America. 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 1907, President Teddy Roosevelt and the American Bison Society began this effort by shipping 15 animals by train from the Bronx Zoo to Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. 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 exist 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.
Sen. Tim Johnson said, “The bison has played an important role in our nation’s history, holds spiritual significance to Native American cultures, and remains one of our most iconic and enduring symbols. Bison production has also become an important agricultural endeavor in South Dakota and throughout the country as demand continues to grow. By adopting the North American bison as our national mammal, the National Bison Legacy Act recognizes their historical, cultural, ecological, and economic significance.”
Sen. John Hoeven said, “North Dakota’s history is closely associated with the bison, largely because of the influence of President Teddy Roosevelt’s early visits to our state. His efforts to protect these majestic animals helped to retrieve them from the brink of extinction and established them as one of the most powerful and inspiring symbols of the American spirit, for Native Americans and settlers alike. I can think of no more noble an animal to name as the official mammal of the United States.”
Bison currently appear on two state flags, on the seal of the Department of the Interior, and on U.S. currency. In addition, bison have been adopted as the state mammal of Wyoming and the state animal of Oklahoma and Kansas. The bison is the nation’s most culturally recognizable mammal and as such deserves recognition through designation and celebration.
John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, said, “Bison are as quintessentially American as baseball, apple pie and the bald eagle. It’s time we start recognizing this majestic mammal as the national icon that it is. We applaud Sens. Johnson and Hoeven and all supporters of the National Bison Legacy Act, and we hope the rest of Congress follows suit and moves to enshrine the bison as our national mammal.”
Bison continue to sustain and provide cultural value to Native Americans and Indian Tribes. More than 60 tribes are working to restore bison to over 1,000,000 acres of Indian lands in South Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Montana, and other states. Today, bison remain integrally linked with the spiritual lives of Native Americans through cultural practices, social ceremonies and religious rituals.
Jim Stone, Executive Director of the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, said: “The bison have such a strong tie to all tribal communities that it is of great importance to recognize the bison in a manner that it deserves. This action does that and we are proud to be a part of the designation.”
Bison production on private ranches is in its strongest economic condition in more than a decade. The total value of privately owned bison on more than 2,500 bison ranches in the U.S. was estimated to exceed $280 million in 2013. Bison ranches in states including South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Texas, Colorado, and Montana create jobs, provide a sustainable and healthy meat source, and contribute to our nation’s food security.
Dave Carter, Executive Director of the National Bison Association, said: “Tribal leaders, conservationists and private producers have all played an important role in restoring bison across the United States. The fourth partner in this success story is the American public. As more people embrace the great taste and quality attributes of bison, the herds will continue to grow. The National Bison Legacy Act recognizes the importance of this magnificent animal, and its important role in the cultures, the environment, and the food system of our nation.”
The bison, North America’s largest land mammal, once roamed the continent freely, helping sustain plains and prairie ecosystems as a keystone species through grazing, fertilization, trampling and other activities. Bison shaped the vegetation and landscape as they fed on and dispersed the seeds of grasses, sedges, and forbs. Several bird species adapted to or co-evolved with types of grasses and vegetation structures that had been, for millennia, grazed by millions of free-ranging bison.
Keith Aune, WCS Senior Conservationist, said: “Vast herds of American Bison were essential to healthy prairie ecosystems for tens of thousands of years biologically engineering the plant and animal communities we recognize and cherish today. Few other animals have had such a far-reaching and lasting ecological impact.”
The Vote Bison Coalition, led by steering committee members the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, National Bison Association and Wildlife Conservation Society, formed in 2012 to make bison the National Mammal and to celebrate National Bison Day annually on the 1st Saturday of November. The coalition counts more than 50 businesses, tribal groups and organizations who have banded together to support efforts to celebrate bison. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Chief Earl Old Person of the Blackfoot Nation, and Ted Roosevelt V, great-great grandson of President Roosevelt, serve as the Advisory Council to the coalition.
On October 29, 2013, the Senate passed S.Res. 254, officially designating November 2, 2013, as National Bison Day. Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY) and Sen. Johnson (D-SD) led the effort, which earned the support of 23 bipartisan cosponsors. National Bison Day is an annual opportunity for Native Americans, bison producers, conservationists, sportsmen, educators and other public and private partners to celebrate this American icon, the American bison. National Bison Day 2013 was commemorated with events and promotional activities in: DC, FL, IA, KS, KY, ND, NJ, NY, OK, SD, TX, VA, and WY.
In addition to Sens. Johnson and Hoeven, the National Bison Legacy Act was supported at its Senate introduction by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (R-ND), Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Sen. John Thune (R-SD). The House version of the bill has 11 bipartisan cosponsors.
Chip Weiskotten – 202-624-8172; firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephen Sautner – 718-220-3682; email@example.com
The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council is a federally chartered Tribal organization dedicated to the restoration of buffalo to Tribal lands in manner that is compatible with their spiritual and cultural beliefs and practices. ITBC has been working on this mission since 1992. Visit: http://www.itbcbuffalo.com
The National Bison Association brings together all stakeholders to celebrate the heritage of the American bison, to educate, and to create a sustainable future for our industry. Visit: http://www.bisoncentral.com
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. VISION: WCS envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in more than 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: www.wcs.org; facebook.com/TheWCS; youtube.com/user/WCSMedia; follow: @theWCS.