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052712-nws-bison bill

Western lawmakers from the Dakotas, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico — and hangers-on from Rhode Island — are backing a Senate bill to nominate the bison as the national mammal, joining the national bird, the bald eagle.

Journal file

Some things are bigger than partisan politics.

Take the bison, a shaggy plains native that can grow up to 6 feet tall at the shoulders and weigh more than a ton.

It's big enough to straddle the partisan divide in Washington, D.C.

So you'll see Democrats and Republicans, political creatures of seemingly endless conflict, signed on serenely in support of the National Bison Legacy Act, which would designate the American bison — or the buffalo, if you prefer — as the national mammal of the United States.

It's not a "D" or "R" issue. It's a "B" issue. And South Dakota's three-member congressional delegation — currently two Republicans and a Democrat — comes down solidly on the side of the bison.

"Our history is full of stories of bison and making it the national mammal is an appropriate way to solidify its place as an iconic American symbol," said Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.

Noem is one of the original co-sponsors of the National Bison Legacy Act in the U.S. House. And she has more than just a long-distance interest in the beasts. A horse lover since her youth, Noem has ridden her own steed in the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., are no less supportive of the bison bill, however. Johnson, in fact, joined Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., in introducing the Senate version of the legislation.

The Vote Bison coalition is promoting the legacy act and intends to celebrate the first Thursday of each November as National Bison Day. The coalition complimented supporters of the act in Congress through a news release on Tuesday and provided comments from supporters.

They included Jim Stone, executive director of the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, who celebrated the spirit of cooperation among those supporting the act.

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"I find it refreshing that there is such a broad support for our effort and it shows that there is common ground that can be found at the congressional level and between the tribes, producers and conservationists," he said.

The American bison once ranged widely across North America in wandering herds that totaled in the tens of millions. Hunting in the 1800s nearly wiped out the animal, which lived on in smaller herds — including some in South Dakota.

Now Custer State Park maintains a large herd, as does adjoining Wind Cave National Park. And bison are grown for meat production on private ranches throughout the region. They carry value for the tourism industry, the agriculture industry and those committed to preserving symbols of the American West.

Thune said the value of the bison is particularly clear in South Dakota.

"The American bison has played an important role in South Dakota's history, especially to our state's Native American tribes," he said. "South Dakota has one of the largest bison herds in the world located in Custer State Park. This legislation would recognize the cultural significance of the bison across our country."

More information on the act and the bison campaign is available at

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or

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