Bison are profiled on US coins, portrayed on two state flags along with several federal and state emblems and featured on logos of sports teams, businesses and academic institutions across the USA. In addition, bison have been adopted as the state mammal of Wyoming and the state animal of Oklahoma and Kansas.
Before being nearly wiped from existence by westward expansion, bison roamed freely across most of North America, helping sustain plains and prairie ecosystems as a keystone species through foraging, fertilisation, trampling and other activities. Bison shaped the vegetation and landscape as they fed on and dispersed the seeds of grasses, sedges and forbs.
Several bird species adapted to or co-evolved with types of grasses and vegetation structures that had been, for millennia, grazed by millions of free-ranging bison. The Wildlife Conservation Society today works to support bison recovery in the American west, through the expansion of existing herds and reintroduction of bison to new large landscapes to avoid ecological extinction.
Before being nearly wiped from existence by westward expansion, bison ranged from Alaska to Mexico, from Oregon to New Jersey, and south as far as Georgia. Bison were hunted down to approximately 1,000 at the turn of the 20th century, and were brought back from the brink of extinction by a concerted effort of ranchers, conservationists and politicians to save the species.
A conservation first
The species is acknowledged as the first American conservation success story, having been brought back from the brink of extinction by a concerted effort of ranchers, conservationists, tribes and politicians to save the species in the early 20th century.
In 1907, President Teddy Roosevelt and the American Bison Society began this effort by shipping 15 animals by train from the Bronx Zoo to Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Soon after, bison were transferred to South Dakota’s Wind Cave National Park.
This early campaign to spare the last few hundred bison evolved into the first major wildlife recovery in world history. The small population secured in states like South Dakota, Montana and Oklahoma spawned today’s 2,500 privately ranched herds of bison.
Bison now exist in all 50 states in public and private herds, sustaining a multi-million dollar sector of American agriculture.
While less than 5% of bison truly run wild these days, wherever they roam they help recover lost grasslands and biodiversity.
National Bison Day
For the past four years, the Vote Bison Coalition has joined people across the country to celebrate National Bison Day on the first Saturday of November.
Native American tribes, bison producers, conservationists, sportsmen and women, educators and other public and private partners commemorated the day by hosting events celebrating bison in their communities in dozens of states and participating on social media. The US Senate has for the past three years recognised National Bison Day with an official resolution.
‘Finally we are placing this symbolic creature in proper perspective by recognizing its many values to the American people both past and present. The passage of this bill not only recognizes the historic significance of bison but signals the beginning of a grand American adventure to carry out ecological, economic and cultural restoration of American bison into the future. The National Bison Legacy Act assures that bison stories will be shared each year to inspire future generations. The American bison truly stands out among all North American mammals and deserves to be our National Mammal.’
Senior conservationist at Wildlife Conservation Society
Click here to read the full text of the National Bison Legacy Act.