The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Intertribal Buffalo Council (ITBC), and National Bison Association have announced the launch of a campaign to make the North American bison the national mammal of the U.S. 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.  
 
The bill, which was introduced by U.S. Sens. Michael Enzi (R-WY) and Tim Johnson (D-SD), acknowledges the efforts that Native Americans, bison producers, conservationists, sportsmen, educators and other public and private partners are making in recognizing bison for its cultural, economical and ecological significance across the American landscape. Enzi and Johnson 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 coalition's campaign will ask the public to "vote for bison," while highlighting the many ways that bison have shaped America's history, economy, culture and landscapes. The public in turn will have the opportunity to follow the national campaign and be involved in the passage of the bill by visiting www.votebison.org. Steering members of the coalition are WCS, the Intertribal Buffalo Council (which has a membership of 57 tribes in 19 states), and the National Bison Association (which has more than 1000 members across all 50 states). Additional coalition members have signed on and more are anticipated as the campaign kicks off.  
 
The bison – America's largest land mammal – is celebrated for its cultural relevance and power to inspire. In the early 1900s, bison numbered less than 1,100 individuals after ranging across North America in the tens of millions a century earlier. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt, William Hornaday of WCS (then the New York Zoological Society), and others convened a group of diverse stakeholders at the Bronx Zoo in New York City and formed the American Bison Society (ABS). ABS developed a new conservation ethic and helped save bison from extinction. In 1907, 15 Bronx-born bison were sent by ABS to the first big game refuge in the U.S. – the Wichita Reserve Bison Refuge. Today, bison number in the hundreds of thousands in the U.S. and are found in state and national parks, wildlife refuges, and on tribal and private lands.
 
"The bison is quintessentially American," says WCS Executive Vice President of Public Affairs John Calvelli. "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."
 
Among other findings, the National Bison Legacy Act 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.
 
WCS Senior Conservationist Keith Aune says, "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."
 
Bison currently appear on two state flags, on the seal of the Department of the Interior, and on U.S. currency. In addition, bison have been adopted as the state mammal of Wyoming, Oklahoma and Kansas. The coalition believes that the bison is the nation's most culturally recognizable animal and as such deserves recognition through designation and celebration.
 
"The North American bison is an enduring symbol of America, its people and a way of life," Enzi says. "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."
 
Johnson adds, "The historical, cultural, ecological and economic significance the bison has in South Dakota and across the nation makes it well deserving of this designation. Throughout history, the bison has been the center of the economic and spiritual lives of American Indians and is an important historical symbol of the U.S."
 
Based to some extent on the health benefits derived from consumption of bison as a red meat source, bison today are an economic driver as well. The total value of privately owned bison on more than 4,000 bison ranches in the U.S. was estimated to exceed $250 million in 2011, creating jobs and contributing to the nation's food security.
 
"The grassland environments of North America were all shaped by the hoof print of the American bison," says Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association.  "As we introduce healthy bison meat to a new generation of Americans, we are also restoring a vital part of the ecological health to our grasslands. Just as the bison are a proud part of our past, they are a growing part of our future as well."
 
Bison continue to sustain and provide cultural value to Native Americans. Today, bison remain integrally linked with the spiritual lives of Native Americans through cultural practices, social ceremonies and religious rituals. ITBC member tribes have a combined herd of over 15,000 bison on more than one million acres of tribal land.
 
"The buffalo was once the center of life for the native peoples and today, as we work to restore that relationship, we would like to pause and honor the buffalo as the national mammal," says Jim Stone, ITBC executive director. "We would like to see this done in order to draw attention to the diverse groups that have played a role in restoration and that continue to work on restoring an original American icon."
 
Enzi and Johnson were joined as original co-sponsors of the legislation by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kent Conrad (D-ND), John Hoeven (R-ND), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Jerry Moran (R-KS), John Thune (R-SD), Mark Udall (D-CO), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
 
For more information, contact Dave Carter at (303) 292-2833.
 
The National Bison Association brings together all stakeholders to celebrate the heritage of the American bison, to educate, and to create a sustainable future for our industry. Visit www.bisoncentral.com.
 
The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide.  We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony.  WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. Visit: www.wcs.org
 
The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council is a federally chartered Tribal organization dedicated to the restoration of buffalo to Tribal lands in manner that is compatible with their spiritual and cultural beliefs and practices. ITBC has been working on this mission since 1992. Visit: itbcbison.com.