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On its long path through America, the bison reaches national mammal status

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President Obama's signature on the National Bison Legacy Act made the North American bison the official mammal of the United States Monday.

There was a time when millions of bison roamed the continent. But by the late 1800s the animal was near extinction with only a few hundred left, the Interior Department says in introducing 15 fun facts about bison.

Theodore Roosevelt, who would play a key role in reviving the species, first traveled to Dakota Territory to hunt the bison he'd heard so much about. He quickly discovered that it was tough to find any in 1883 because most of the herds had been slaughtered by commercial hunters, the National Park Service says.

Today there is a herd in the national park in North Dakota that's named after Roosevelt. The state is also home to the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown.

Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota was an original sponsor of the move to give the bison national recognition. He said Monday: ‘Bison are strong, proud and free, and a truly American icon with an incredible story. These noble creatures were brought back from the brink of extinction in our nation’s first great conservation effort."

The Grand Forks Herald notes that all three members of North Dakota's Congressional delegation played roles in getting the legislation passed.

Today there are an estimated 500,000 bison in the U.S., though the Associated Press says most of those have been cross bred with cattle, making then semi-domesticated. The news service reports there are about 30,000 truly wild bison in the country with the largest population in Yellowstone National Park.

As for Minnesota, the bison that were reintroduced to Blue Mounds State Park in 1961 and have lived there ever since are the rare kind that show no genetic evidence of breeding with cattle.

Last year some of them were moved to Minneopa State Park near Mankato to establish a herd there.

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