Absolutely huge news for America’s national mammal. Everybody knows the bald eagle is America’s national bird and the living emblem of our great nation. Less people realize that America also has another species just as iconic as the eagle. That animal is the American bison and it was declared our country’s official national mammal by President Barack Obama in 2016. Now the federal government is dedicating more than $25 million in government funding to support the restoration of bison populations and the conservation of grassland habitats. The announcement was made last Friday but the U.S. Secretary of The Interior, Deb Haaland.
Similarily to the bald eagle, the epic comeback of the American bison is one of the best wildlife conservation stories in American history. Outdoor Life recently took a closer look at the full story and provided more context. At the end of the 1800s, bison populations had been shot down to just a few hundred animals. Today, more than 15,000 wild bison are roaming free in America. Even more of the animals are thriving on private land too. Despite that success story, bison herds today are only a small fraction of what they once were. It’s a bit discouraging to know the species will never be as abundant and widespread as it once was. The landscape of America has simply changed too much and herds diminished too greatly.
Plans Underway To Continue Ongoing Restoration of American Bison Populations
More than 60 million wild bison once thundered across North America prior to the colonization of the continent. So comparatively speaking, the 15,000 is encouraging but not all that impressive. In fact, the species is still considered to be “functionally extinct” from an ecological perspective. The herds that remain are more about historical and cultural value than they are true wild bison herds.
“The American bison is inextricably intertwined with Indigenous culture, grassland ecology, and American history,” said Secretary Haaland. “While the overall recovery of bison over the last 130 years is a conservation success story, significant work remains to not only ensure that bison will remain a viable species but also to restore grassland ecosystems, strengthen rural economies dependent on grassland health and provide for the return of bison to Tribally owned and ancestral lands.”
Bison restoration and conservation efforts are carried out in large part by federal and state governments in partnership with private landowners. However, Native American Tribes are also still a huge part of the picture and much of their culture is deeply intertwined with the spirit of the bison. The InterTribal Buffalo Council is a vital part of making sure these tribes remain involved with initiatives and partnerships regarding bison across the country.
The Buffalo Council is officially chartered and recognized by the U.S. Federal Government. It includes more than 20,000 active members from 79 different native tribes across America. The group was founded in 1992 and is based in Rapid City, South Dakota.
The Presence Of Bison On The Landscape Helps Restore Native Prairies
Bison are one of the few species in America that can be considered ecosystem engineers. That means their presence on the landscape alters the ecological dynamics of the area so significantly that it impacts the entire ecosystem. Bison herds graze heavily and trample vegetation a considerable amount given their huge size. That keeps brush and foliage from becoming overgrown and turning prairies into forests. This documentary titled Return of The Buffalo provides a fantastic look at how closely intertwined bison are with the vast prairies of middle and western America.