As a rule, I despise legislation that declares “such-and-such” to be the national or state “thing.” At the state level the gestures are frequently meaningless, self-congratulatory measures that allow pols to run home and tout their fidelity to local lore. But legislation passed by Congress last week that names the bison as the national mammal is not frivolous, and President Barack Obama should sign it.
Here are four reasons the bison should be the national mammal.
1) It is robustly American
The North American Bison – or buffalo, the terms are interchangeable – is a powerful, enduring animal. The vast herds of up to 30 million bison that once roamed the North American continent thrived in the brutal climate of the Great Plains, the wooded timberland of the Midwest and the foothills of the Alleghenies, enduring fiery summers and frigid winters year after year. As Indians and pioneers moved across the nation pushing ever Westward, the herds sustained life providing a ready source of meat and hides that could be fashioned into clothing and shelters.
Theodore Roosevelt, in his multi-volume epic The Winning of The West, repeatedly speaks of the bison’s value to early settlers as they forged a nation from the raw and hostile wilderness that confronted them.
2) It is an icon of freedom
In art and life the bison represents the American West, and the rugged self-reliance and personal courage of those who ventured into the untamed frontier. Although hunted to near extinction (more on that in a minute) the bison’s very image speaks of the heroic struggle of all sides to weather hardship and wield rifle and plow to make a better life.
3) It is exceptionally tasty
Bison burgers are for real Americans. When given a choice between beef or bison, Americans choose bison. Or they should. More distinct and flavorful than beef, bison makes you feel like an American pioneer, someone ready to brave the elements. While tasty, beef is available to all and is a safe choice that nearly everyone has experienced. Bison allows the consumer to display a real panache and self-confidence in meat choices.
4) It is a free-market success story
The Daily Signal and the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) have a couple of good pieces out talking about the resurgence of the bison. Thanks to overhunting and wasteful stewardship, the bison population in the U.S. once dwindled to around 300 head. Today, there are half a million head of bison in the U.S. with the vast majority of them being in private herds. A prime driver in the bison comeback has been the consumption of bison meat.
Finally, as a pro-tip, if you want a really, really good bison burger head out to Custer State Park in South Dakota and visit the Blue Bell Lodge’s dining room. For grilling a bison burger at home, aim for rare to medium rare for best flavor and serve on a pretzel roll. You are welcome.