The American Prairie Reserve, a non-profit land trust based in Bozeman, Montana, recently purchased a sizable plot of land (150,000 acres) adjacent to the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. South Ranch, the purchased land, was originally set up as a cattle ranch and is located 60 miles south of the Canadian border.
In purchasing the ranch, the American Prairie Reserve has taken one step towards their main goal of creating a wildlife preserve larger than the state of Connecticut. Their goal involves acquiring more land, pulling down the fences that once contained cattle, and allowing the area to return to the natural ecosystem that once existed in that part of the U.S. This means bison, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, and their natural predators free flowing through an uninhabited area of prairie land.
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The bald eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782, when it was adopted as a symbol of freedom and its imagery was incorporated into the Great Seal. Its symbolic status helped people rally around it when it faced extinction in the mid twentieth century due to human encroachment and the pesticide DDT. In recent years, the bald eagle population has recovered, and it was taken off the endangered species list in 2007.
Similar to the role of national bird, Senator Mike Enzi (R) of Wyoming and Senator Tim Johnson (D) of South Dakota introduced a bill that would recognize the bison as America’s national mammal. Vast herds of American bison once roamed from Canada to Mexico. From a population that numbered in the millions, American bison dwindled to near extinction by the 1880s, driven there by American settlers.
Today, bison populations have started to recover. There are about half a million bison living today. However most of the bison live in commercial herds and carry genes from cattle. Only a few thousand bison are pure descendants of the vast herds that dominated the Great Plains centuries ago.
To urge your senator to co-sponsor the National Bison Legacy Act, which will help preserve this great species and honor it for its significant role in American history, visit Vote Bison and sign the petition.
To learn more about bison, see Animal Fact Guide’s article, American Bison.
At a national conference held in Rapid City, South Dakota, the Wildlife Conservation Society released a survey regarding how people view the American bison. According to the results, most of the people surveyed value the herd animal as a national symbol. However, less than 10% of those surveyed understood the status of the bison population in North America today.
Before European settlers came to the New World, the American bison numbered at around 30 million, and their range stretched all the way from Alaska to Mexico. Today, only 16,000 bison freely roam in North America.
The Wildlife Conservation Society hopes to promote the restoration of bison populations by appealing to government agencies, conservation groups, and ranchers. Ecological restoration of the American bison would mean that large herds could roam freely within their historic range and interact with other native species.
For more information about the American bison, their conservation status, and what you can do to help the bison, view Animal Fact Guide’s American bison article.