WASHINGTON — The bison has become the official national mammal of the United States under legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama on Monday.
Lawmakers spearheading the effort say the once nearly extinct icon deserves the elevated stature because of its economic and cultural significance in the nation's history.
Millions of bison once roamed the Great Plains. About 500,000 now live in the U.S. but most of those have been cross-bred with cattle, and are semi-domesticated. About 30,000 wild bison roam the country, with the largest population in Yellowstone National Park.
Supporters of the legislation say they believe the recognition will elevate the stature of the bison to that of the bald eagle, long the national emblem, and bring greater attention to ongoing recovery efforts of the species.
"I hope that in my lifetime, thanks to a broad coalition of ranchers, wildlife advocates and tribal nations, we will see bison return to the prominent place they once occupied in our nation's shortgrass prairies," said Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who worked with Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota to pass the Senate version of the legislation.