Symbol of strength: To some in Congress, the bison should rise again
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Does America need a national mammal? U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, a Republican from Wyoming, thinks so. And in a rare show of bipartisanship, many of his colleagues agree.
The United States has three national symbols. The oak has been the national tree since 2004. The rose was designated the national flower in 1986.
The bald eagle has the longest tenure; it has been America's emblem since 1782. Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey, which he thought was more courageous and respectable and was a native species. But a turkey grasping 13 arrows and an olive branch in its claws would have lacked the majesty of the eagle on the Great Seal of the United States.
Now, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the National Bison Association and the Intertribal Buffalo Council want to add the American bison to the list of national symbols. At their peak, American bison numbered more than 50 million and ranged across most of North America. The largest land mammal on the continent, bison were hunted nearly to extinction in the 19th century. Today, some 500,000 bison survive. Most have been cross-bred with domestic cattle and live in herds maintained for their meat and hides. About 20,000 bison are considered wild.
The push to elevate the bison to national mammal is driven by economics and history. Still, the burly bison with its massive head, short horns and distinctive shoulder hump is a fitting symbol of the United States.
First Published June 21, 2012 12:00 am