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Buffalo is now the national mammal, after Obama signs Bison Legacy Act

FILE PHOTO: A buffalo waits to be loaded onto a truck at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in 2014. (Photo: Andrew Brown)

It’s official: the American bison is the country’s national mammal.

President Barack Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law on Monday, bringing a close to months of parliamentary procedure behind the bill since it was first approved by the U.S. Senate in December.

All three members of North Dakota’s federal delegation played some role in the passage of the bill. Republican Sen. John Hoeven was an original sponsor in the Senate; Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp was a co-sponsor; and Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer was a co-sponsor of the House bill.

“Bison embody the spirit and strength of our great country, and I’m proud to have co-sponsored this push to make the bison our national mammal,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “For thousands of years bison have been a noble fixture of the prairie, and they have long played an important and revered role in Native cultures. … Bison are woven into our heritage, from the North Dakotans who first homesteaded on the plains to the modern day.”

The American Bison, the heaviest land animals in North America, can weigh more than a ton, but can still run at speeds up to 40 mph. Though they once roamed across a broad expanse of the continent, roughly 50 million were killed by pioneers during the 1800s, according to National Geographic.

Shortly after the bill first passed the Senate last year, Hoeven remarked on the bison’s “remarkable story” -- an animal whose numbers were once reduced to near-extinction -- as well as its particular link to North Dakota via Theodore Roosevelt’s work on the species’ behalf. The legislation passed in the House late last month, and a vote from the Senate to agree with the House version of the bill sent it to the president’s desk several days later.

“Bison are strong, proud and free, and a truly American icon with an incredible story,” Hoeven said in a statement. “We look forward to honoring our new national mammal -- hopefully with a live bison -- at an induction ceremony in our nation’s capital.”

The law takes immediate effect, and does not hinder any ranching efforts currently used to raise bison, legislators have said. Cramer said the law was an important positive note for the legislature to strike.

“I’m grateful that (Obama) signed it,” he said. “It’s something for the country to rally around.”

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

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