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'Noble' bison could be named official mammal of the U.S.

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“I can think of no more noble an animal to name as the official mammal of the United States.”

North Dakota GOP Sen. John Hoeven was talking about bison when he said that in a news release Wednesday, announcing that he and Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., had introduced the National Bison Legacy Act. The bill would name the bison as the official mammal of the U.S. – putting it right up there with the bald eagle as an American icon.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by 12 other senators including Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., would recognize the cultural, economic, historical and ecological contributions of America's largest land mammal, Johnson says in the release.

Supporters of the bill note the bison's significance in American history. Before settlers moved west, millions of bison roamed the Great Plains, providing American Indians with everything from meat for food and hides for clothing. But by the 1800s, bison had been hunted to near extinction.

In the 1900s, President Theodore Roosevelt, who often visited North Dakota, sought to protect bison and formed the American Bison Society. His efforts to protect the "majestic animal" made them one of America's first conservation success stories, Hoeven notes.

“The bison has played an important role in our nation’s history, holds spiritual significance to Native American cultures, and remains one of our most iconic and enduring symbols,” Johnson said in the release.

The Intertribal Buffalo Council, which is a group of 58 tribes working to revive tribal bison culture, supports the bill, Forum News reports.

The National Bison Association, which represents bison meat producers, also supports the bill, Forum says. Bison meat sales reached almost $280 million last year.

A version of the bill was originally introduced in 2012, but it stalled. Forum says there hasn't been any opposition to the bill recently.

American bison are often referred to as buffalo, but buffalo are the species found in Africa and Asia, such as the water buffalo, the Mankato Free Press notes.

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