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Iconic Bison Could Join Eagle as National Symbol

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First the iconic bison got its own day, and now it could join the eagle as a national animal.

Congress is going to consider a bill "to adopt the bison as the national mammal of the United States,” according to the Argus Leader.

The 57 tribes comprising the Intertribal Buffalo Council in Rapid City support the idea, as does the National Bison Association. Both groups were also enthusiastic about the establishment of National Bison Day last fall.

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Sponsored by Senator Tim Johnson, D-South Dakota, the National Bison Legacy Act was also backed by Senator John Thune, R-South Dakota, Senator John Hoeven, R-North Dakota and Senator Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, among others. The National Bison Legacy Act was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday June 11.

"The bison has played an important role in our nation's history, holds spiritual significance to Native American cultures and remains one of our most iconic and enduring symbols," Johnson said in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction.

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Johnson also noted both the spiritual and economic importance of bison to American Indians as a major reason the animal should be honored, and recognized efforts to reintroduce bison onto tribal lands.

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There are 33,000 bison in South Dakota, according to the Argus Leader, which is one-sixth the national total. In addition there are 1,200 of them in Custer State Park, 165,000 on private U.S. ranches today, 20,000 in public U.S. herds and 200,000 in Canada, the newspaper reported, quoting the Census of Agriculture of the USDA Statistical Service.

“By adopting the North American bison as our national mammal, the National Bison Legacy Act recognizes their historical, cultural, ecological, and economic significance,” Johnson said in his statement.

Support goes across the aisle, as it did for National Bison Day. This could help the animal join the eagle as a national symbol, according to the online campaign Vote Bison. The campaign—and earlier versions of the bill—date back at least two years, to 2012. 

"This legislation is part of a growing effort to recognize the incredible historical and cultural significance of bison here in the United States,” said Representative Kristi Noem, R-South Dakota, who is the bill’s lead sponsor in the U.S. House of Representatives. “Especially in places like South Dakota, the bison symbolizes resilience and honors Native American heritage."