On May 9, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law, making bison the national mammal of the United States.
Bison, which are the largest mammals in North America and weigh up to 2,000 pounds, join the eagle as an official symbol of the nation. Bison once numbered in the millions before over-hunting decimated the population and drove the animal to near extinction in the late 1800s. The fall of bison is also directly tied to the nation’s Native American history, as it directly contributed to the collapse of Native American societies that depended on the species for survival.
According to the Department of the Interior, “Had it not been for a few private individuals working with tribes, states and the Interior Department, the bison would be extinct today.” Teddy Roosevelt, an avid hunter, was one of the private individuals who played a key role in conservation efforts to save bison. In 1905, Roosevelt co-founded the American Bison Society with William Hornaday to help restore the species.
Today, bison currently live in all 50 states, including Native American lands, wildlife refuges, national parks and private lands. Yellowstone National Park is the only place in the U.S. where bison have lived continuously since pre-historic times. The herd there, which is around 4,900 bison, are genetically pure descendants (no cattle genes) of early bison.
Here in Minnesota, a small herd of bison in Blue Mounds State Park was discovered to also be free of cattle genes. The Minnesota DNR and the Minnesota Zoo are currently collaborating on a conservation effort to bolster the herd’s population.
Learn more facts about the United States’ new national mammal at the Department of the Interior’s website.