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Dakota senators revive effort to get bison declared national mammal

Jun 12, 2014 - By Dirk Lammers, The Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Senators from the Dakotas are among those making another attempt to have the bison declared the national mammal, citing the animal's historical significance and importance to Native Americans.

South Dakota's Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson said the goal is to recognize its cultural, ecological and economic impact.

"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 a statement.

Johnson, along with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., are among the co-sponsors of the National Bison Legacy Act set to be introduced Wednesday. The bill is backed by the Rapid City-based Intertribal Buffalo Council, which includes 57 tribes, and the National Bison Association.

If passed, the largely ceremonial designation would give the animal more recognition but not any added protection. Similar legislation introduced in 2012 stalled in Congress.

Tens of millions of bison once roamed most of North America but overhunting reduced the population to about 1,000 animals by the turn of the 20th century. Conservationists including President Theodore Roosevelt created the American Bison Society in 1905 to save the species from extinction, re-establishing herds in Oklahoma, Montana and South Dakota.

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