Image: Yellowstone National Park

The Bald Eagle has long been a national symbol of the United States as the country’s national bird. Now it’s set to be joined by another animal, the North American Bison, which will soon be made the country’s National Mammal.

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Earlier this week, US Congress passed HR2908, The National Bison Legacy Act, and it’s headed to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

The bill offers a laundry list of points about the bison’s importance to the country:

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  • (2) bison were integrally linked with the economic and spiritual lives of many Indian tribes through trade and sacred ceremonies;
  • (9) bison hold significant economic value for private producers and rural communities;
  • (17) a bison is portrayed on 2 State flags;
  • (20) the buffalo nickel played an important role in modernizing the currency of the United States;

While there are certainly symbolic overtures to this piece of legislation, it also contains some practical elements.

Image: Yellowstone National Park

The bill specifically highlights some of the conservation efforts that have been enacted over the years to bring the animal back from the brink of extinction in the 19th century, as well as the importance of the animal to the ecosystem of the American West.

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Dave Carter, the Executive Director of the National Bison Association, noted in a press release:

“The National Mammal declaration not only recognizes the historic role of bison in America, it celebrates the resurgence of bison as an important part of the American environment, diet, and an emerging part of the agricultural economy.”

Other conservationist groups have weighed in with similar language. The bison’s population numbers in the US have rebounded from a nadir of 1,091 members to the present population of around 500,000.

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[Congress, NPR]