Coalition’s Effort to Make Bison National Mammal Pays Off
Legislation that would designate the bison the official national mammal passed Congress last week—thanks to a coalition created by the InterTribal Buffalo Council, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the National Bison Association.
The Vote Bison Coalition claims a victory as both the House and the Senate last week passed the National Bison Legacy Act, legislation that names the bison the national mammal.
While the act still awaits President Obama’s signature, its congressional passage is the culmination of a four-year campaign by the coalition, which is led by the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the National Bison Association (NBA).
“The adoption of bison as our national mammal represents a validation of the many meaningful ways this animal represents America,” WCS Executive Vice President of Public Affairs John Calvelli said in a statement. “As an ecological keystone, cultural bedrock, and economic driver, the bison conveys values such as unity, resilience, and commitment to healthy landscapes and communities. Bison takes a place alongside the bald eagle as a national symbol to be revered.”
NBA, which advocates for private bison ranchers and bison meat products, sees this as a step forward in helping protect and honor the animal.
“It means nothing and it means everything. It means nothing in that it doesn’t change any federal laws, there’s no additional protective status. But it means everything in that it puts bison on the stage on which all of us that love this animal and are involved with it can connect with the public around the deep, rich story of this animal,” NBA Executive Director Dave Carter said.
For ITBC, the legislation marks a revived chance for Native American communities to reconnect with their history and culture by bringing the bison back into their daily lives.
“For our tribes it really solidifies the iconic nature of the buffalo,” ITBC Executive Director Jim Stone said. “It’s a cross-cultural animal of significance for people of the United States, as well as the tribes, [but] particularly for tribes, as the tribes and the buffalo have a relationship that in our stories goes back essentially since time began.”
Introducing the bison as the national animal not only helps the tribes reintroduce bison into their school programs and their diet but also shines a reflective light on the relationship the country has had with Native American populations through the bison and its near extinction.
“History has been written by the conquerors for so long, and in this country it appears there’s a willingness to go back and look at some of the darker places in our history, make it a part of everyday life almost, to reflect on it, which isn’t a bad thing,” Stone said.
A Bit of Background
The three organizations formed the coalition—which now also includes 60 other national and local groups—to rally for the bison as the national mammal as well as an official bison day. While the holiday isn’t included in the act, the country has recognized National Bison Day on the first Saturday of November since 2012 because of the coalition’s efforts.
Though the introduction of the act was stalled by House rules, the coalition was able to push for rule changes through Capitol Hill visits and succeeded in its mission despite the differences in perspectives and focuses of the three leading groups. Successfully working together on the issues all three groups agreed upon, they could then separately highlight their own priorities in bison preservation, Carter explained.
“The tribal community can talk about the ancient spiritual and cultural importance of bison to the native cultures,” Carter said. “The conservation community can talk about how bison are really playing a growing role on public lands—not only Yellowstone Park, but Custer State Park and other preserves around the country. And we can tell the story about how private land owners are playing a major role in bison restoration.”