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This week President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law, officially making the American bison the national mammal of the United States.

This majestic animal joins the ranks of the Bald Eagle as the official symbol of our country — and much like the eagle, it's one of the greatest conservation success stories of all time.

In prehistoric times, millions of bison roamed North America — from the forests of Alaska and the grasslands of Mexico to Nevada's Great Basin and the eastern Appalachian Mountains.

But by the late 1800s, there were only a few hundred bison left in the United States after European settlers pushed west, reducing the animal's habitat and hunting the bison to near extinction. Had it not been for a few private individuals working with tribes, states and the Interior Department, the bison would be extinct today.

Bison facts

· Bison are the largest mammal in North America. Male bison (called bulls) weigh up to 2,000 pounds and stand 6 feet tall, while females (called cows) weigh up to 1,000 pounds and reach a height of 4-5 feet. Bison calves weigh 30-70 pounds at birth.

· Since the late 19th century, Interior has been the primary national conservation steward of the bison. Public lands managed by Interior support 17 bison herds — or approximately 10,000 bison — in 12 states, including Alaska.

· While bison and buffalo are used interchangeably, in North America the scientific name is bison. Bison can live up to 20 years old.

· Yellowstone National Park is the only place in the U.S. where bison have continuously lived since prehistoric times. As of July 2015, Yellowstone's bison population was estimated at 4,900 — making it the largest bison population on public lands.

· In 1883, Teddy Roosevelt traveled to the Dakota Territory to hunt bison. After spending a few years in the west, Roosevelt returned to New York with a new outlook on life. He paved the way for the conservation movement, and in 1905, formed the American Bison Society with William Hornaday to save the disappearing bison. Today bison live in all 50 states, including Native American lands, wildlife refuges, national parks and private lands.

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