The story of the American Bison is an American story through and through. It’s the story of our shared darkness and our shared light. Last summer, the U.S. Congress introduced the National Public Bison Act. On May 9, it was passed in both houses and President Barack Obama made it U.S. law. The American Bison would henceforth be the National Mammal of these United States.
The American Bison was an animal that roamed from Alaska to Mexico and from Appalachia to the Sierra Nevada. It was North America’s largest and most ubiquitous land animal. As Manifest Destiny took hold and the European settlers expanded West, the bison became the victim of circumstance. They were annihilated in the U.S. government’s bid to starve out the Plains Indians and force them onto reservations.
In 1883, Teddy Roosevelt, noted moose enthusiast and Rough Rider, set out for the West. Legend has it that he killed one bison. It was the absolute and horrific carnage of the American Bison he witnessed in the Dakotas that changed the hunter. He stopped. He couldn’t kill more than that one. By 1889, only 1,091 bison were left standing from a population of approximately 30,000,000.
In 1905, Roosevelt would be crucial in the formation of the American Bison Association. They along with U.S. Department of Interior rounded up the remaining bison they could find and sent them to the Bronx Zoo for a breeding program. The last, and only original herd of American Bison that exists in the United States lives in Yellowstone National Park. By 1913, 14 bison were reintroduced to the Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota from the Bronx Zoo program. With the help of Indian tribes, the DOI, ranchers, and the American Bison Association, the American Bison was slowly re-introduced into the United States, Canada, and Mexico from the Wind Cave herd.
Today, there are 30,000 wild bison roaming the United States. Over 500,000 head of bison live on ranches and Indian reservations around North America as cattle. You’ve probably seen some of them in your local grocery store. The concerted effort of conservation groups, American Indians, ranchers and the U.S. government created the first species reclamation in history. We worked together and saved the American Bison from extinction. That is what it means to be American. That is something to celebrate.
Now, here’s a photo of a bison watching TV!
(Via Washington Post)