Have you been following any bison news lately?
The State Mammal of Oklahoma, Wyoming and Kansas may become the National Mammal to the dismay of some marine mammal fans, a contingent of cattle ranchers, and some other anti-bison folks.
This hasn’t stopped the the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society, the Intertribal Buffalo Council or the National Bison Association from sponsoring legislation, which was recently introduced to Congress by legislators from Western states.
The “Vote Bison” marketing campaign was launched to coincide with the introduction of the National Bison Legacy Act. The legislation provides no more protection for the plains bison or the wood bison, which will soon be reintroduced to Alaska, nor will it replace the bald eagle—the country’s national emblem. What it will do is recognize the cultural icon and keystone grazing herbivore, which once roamed the contiguous 48 states and numbered in the millions. Considered long overdue, the bill will honor a symbolic species, which also happens to be the largest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere.
Once seen all over the North American landscape, the bison, now numbering around 20,000, exist in conservation and commercial herds—many of which are impure with hybrid genes from domestic cattle. The buffalo have made quite a comeback considering they were once on the verge of extinction, but many feel they have a ways to go in respect to conservation of the species.
Although some ranchers perceive bison to be a threat to their livelihood, bison are an integral part of the ecosystems they are a part of and their mere existence on the plains offers an intrinsic value that can not be denied. The perception of livestock managers is that these enormous bovids tear down fences, spread bovine diseases and compete with domestic cattle for forage, but they are critical to ecological restoration initiatives. They shape thabitats and ultimately increase biodiversity; they promote nutrient cycling and could provide a great source of food for subsistence hunters, among other benefits.
In recent years, government wildlife agencies, tribal groups and wildlife conservationists have revisited opportunities to restore bison to the wild, while other groups have attempted to display captive bison for public viewing within the animals’ historic range. For instance, Ted Turner recently offered to donate a small herd for viewing along Highway 36 between Davidson Mesa and Boulder, Colorado.