Bison: New Federal Act is Food for Thought

The ARL reflects on our first national mammal, an animal that faced extinction just over a century ago

Did you know… that the bison are already on 2 State flags, are the official mammal of three States, and are the official symbol of the United States Department of the Interior? They are also mascots of sports teams and part of our coinage (yes, the “buffalo nickel” is really an image of a bison).

On May 9, 2016, President Obama signed into the law the National Bison Legacy Act, a bill that makes the bison the United States’ first national mammal; a big milestone for an animal that has played a central role in America’s history and culture!

Read more about the National Bison Legacy Act.

The four-year long debate that ended with this moment presents us with an opportunity to talk about animals, history, culture, science, and our world. It gives us the opportunity to reflect upon and to remember all that has gone before. And that opportunity always presents another: it gives us a way to continue the dialogue and to advocate on behalf of all animals for so many different reasons.

bisontimelineHere are 6 more interesting facts about bison:

  1. Bison are not “buffalo”; that’s just a word that the citizens of the “Old West” used.
  2. The role of the bison was integrally linked with the economic and spiritual lives of many Indian tribes and their sacred ceremonies. Many animals, like the bison, have played and continue to play different roles in our society.
  3. Bison play an important role in ecology, such as improving the types of grasses found in the landscape of the United States.
  4. In the southern part of Utah there is a herd of rare, genetically pure bison, just as they were before they were almost hunted to extinction.
  5. Bison not only have intrinsic value, but economic value as well.
  6. It’s been over a century since William Hornaday, the first director of what is now the Bronx Zoo, along with Theodore Roosevelt, formed the American Bison Society. Hornaday raised captive-bred bison and eventually sent them to the first wildlife refuge in the United States. Such effort reminds us that we almost lost all of what the bison represents – then and now.

If the National Bison Act gets you to think about wildlife, ecology, and history– and if there’s dialogue celebrating and wondering about the life of the shaggy mammal– then the conversation and advocacy continues!