Excellent Idea of the Day: Vote Bison

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American bison in Yellowstone
Julie Larsen Maher

This election season, you can "vote for bison," thanks to a newly launched campaign to make the North American bison the national mammal of the United States.

This election season, you can "vote for bison," thanks to a newly launched campaign to make the North American bison the national mammal of the United States. The announcement coincides with the introduction of the National Bison Legacy Act in the U.S. Senate, which if passed would officially designate bison as the national mammal. 

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The bill was introduced by U.S. Sens. Michael Enzi (R-WY) and Tim Johnson (D-SD). The campaign is supported by The Wildlife Conservation Society, Intertribal Buffalo Council, and the National Bison Association. The senators introduced the legislation at the request of a coalition of bison producers, tribal representatives and conservationists that plan to celebrate the first Thursday of each November as National Bison Day.

"The bison is quintessentially American," WCS Executive Vice President of Public Affairs John Calvelli said in a press release. "What better way to celebrate the bison's remarkable history in U.S. culture than to make it the national mammal? We encourage everyone to Vote Bison, and officially make the bison part of our national iconography."

The National Bison Legacy Act, according to the campaign organizers, "recognizes that bison are integrally linked to Native American culture, are a keystone species that benefit grassland ecosystems, hold significant value for private producers and rural communities, and are considered a symbol of the American West."

ANALYSIS: Bison Benefit from Prairie Buy Back

The bison is America's largest land mammal. Fewer than 1,100 of them existed in the early 1900's, a devastating drop from their former population of being in the tens of millions just centuries earlier. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt, William Hornaday of WCS (then the New York Zoological Society), and others acknowledged the need to do something to save these iconic U.S. animals by forming the American Bison Society. While bison are no where near their original population size from hundreds of years ago, today hundreds of thousands of them exist- primarily in state and national parks, wildlife refuges, and on tribal and private lands.

Bison in the wild can benefit other species.

WCS Senior Conservationist Keith Aune explained, "Recent discoveries by western scientists combined with ancient traditional knowledge have described many important relationships that large herds of bison maintained with other animals such as birds, amphibians and prairie dogs in a complete prairie system. Bison were a force of nature and served a key role in maintaining an entire ecosystem while providing important ecological services to mankind."

Senator Enzi added, "The North American Bison is an enduring symbol of America, its people and a way of life. Bison are linked to the economic and spiritual lives of many Indian tribes and this animal, through our history, has been used to represent the strength and will of the American people."

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