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This weekend, Americans will spend the 4th of July thinking of the things that make the United States great. Of course, that means independence and freedom, and probably barbecues and fireworks as well. But another of those quintessentially great things about America is the bison, an animal that has for too long gone unrecognized as the national icon that it is.
Bison numbered over 30 million at the time of the United States’ founding, but that number dwindled to a mere 1,000 with the westward expansion of the United States. The American Bison Society, founded at the Bronx Zoo with the support of President Theodore Roosevelt, helped to restore bison numbers with animals transported west by rail from the Bronx. In the next century, bison numbers rebounded to nearly half a million.
National Bison Day is one of the signature components of legislation now working its way through the United States Congress. At a time of deep partisan gridlock, the National Bison Legacy Act, which would make the bison our National Mammal, boasts broad support among both Democrats and Republicans. The bill has 18 sponsors in the Senate and 7 in the House, split about evenly by party.
When Kai Ryssdal announced on National Public Radio’s daily financial round-up Marketplace recently that “political gridlock is over,” he wasn’t talking about health care, the national debt, or immigration policy. He was referring to legislation to make the North American bison our National Mammal. To celebrate the bison’s central place in the history and culture of the United States, conservationists, bison producers, sportsmen, and Native American tribes came together this spring to craft and advance the National Bison Legacy Act.
Have you been following any bison news lately? The State Mammal of Oklahoma, Wyoming and Kansas may become the National Mammal to the dismay of some marine mammal fans, a contingent of cattle ranchers, and some other anti-bison folks. This hasn’t stopped the the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society, the Intertribal Buffalo Council or the…