US president, Barack Obama has signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law which means that the iconic mammal will now be considered the national mammal of United States. This comes two weeks after both houses of Congress approved the bill by what is being considered to be unanimous voice votes.
The legislation now puts this unique creature on an equal footing with the Bald Eagle, the nation’s official bird.
A few centuries ago, millions of bison roamed the Great Plains but sadly their populations were decimated inexplicably during the Indian Wars in order to deprive the Native Americans of their food sources, clothing and shelter. However, conservationists at the start of the 20th century strived to reverse the situation and although the bison populations have rebounded in the last century, the creatures have not come close to matching their former glory.
The bill was sponsored by Republican William Clay and will serve only one purpose: To declare the bison the national mammal of the United States.
The law further clarifies that this is purely a symbolic action.
“Nothing in this act or the adoption of the North American bison as the national mammal of the United States shall be construed or used as a reason to alter, change, modify, or otherwise affect any plan, policy, management decision, regulation, or other action by the federal government,” the last clause of the bill reads.
The bill recognizes the bison for its historical and cultural significance and also points out the following facts about this unique beast:
- A bison is portrayed on two state flags;
- The bison has been adopted by three states as their official mammal or animal;
- A bison has been depicted on the official seal of the Department of the Interior since 1912;
- The buffalo nickel played an important role in modernizing the currency of the United States;
- Several sports teams have the bison as a mascot, which highlights the iconic significance of bison in the United States.
The news has been received with open arms from all corners of the country with many believing that this is a great step taken by the president in order to bring great attention towards the recent efforts that have been made in order to protect endangered animals and plants.
“I hope that in my lifetime, thanks to a broad coalition of ranchers, wildlife advocates and tribal nations, we will see bison return to the prominent place they once occupied in our nation’s shortgrass prairies,” said Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who worked with Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota to pass the Senate version of the legislation.
The path of the bison to an official American icon has not been easy. Hunting and habitat destruction saw the population whittle down to just 325 from millions by 1884. While Native American tribes used every part of the bison they hunted, settlers killed them just to harvest their hides and tongues.
Today however, years of legal protection has brought the bison population to 500,000 which should be considered the country’s first and perhaps only conservation success story.