National Bison Day Provides a Chance to Connect with an American Icon

If you put your ear to the ground and listen very carefully, you might hear a faint rumbling sound. That stampede you hear is the approach of National Bison Day, which we celebrate this year on November 1.

For the third year in a row, the more than 50 diverse entities of the Vote Bison Coalition, including bison producers, Native Americans, conservationists, educational institutions, sportsmen/recreationists, zoological institutions, health organizations and other businesses, will use the first Saturday in November as a chance to sing the praises of the most uniquely American animal.

An American Bison herd. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher © WCS.

Bison once numbered in the tens of millions across the U.S. in the early 1800s, ranging from Oregon to New Jersey and Alaska to Mexico. One hundred years later, that number was cut to less than a thousand in the wild due to massive overhunting. But in what some call the first conservation success story in our country, and perhaps the beginning of the modern conservation movement, President Teddy Roosevelt and the Bronx Zoo helped bring back bison from the brink of extinction. Bison have been on the rebound ever since.

When the Wildlife Conservation Society joined with the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council and the National Bison Association to create the Vote Bison Coalition three years ago, we had big ideas but nothing was guaranteed. Since that time we have worked in coalition with a broad constituency for bison that includes Native American tribes, bison ranchers, and a variety of conservation groups. Key to our success has been identifying interests common to all of the groups. For the Vote Bison Coalition, that common dynamic is simply celebrating and raising the national profile of this magnificent animal.

National Bison Day is a manifestation of that cause. Led by our champions in Congress, Sens. Michael Enzi (R-WY) and Tim Johnson (D-SD), the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution proclaiming National Bison Day on November 1, 2014, because of bison’s contribution to our nation’s history, culture, economy and ecology.

2014-10-31-JulieLarsenMaher_9521_AmericanBisonmotherandcalfinwild_YELL_0513061.JPG An American Bison mother and calf in the wild at Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher © WCS.

We have found that National Bison Day is becoming bigger with each passing year. We started with a few scattered events in 2012, and more were added in 2013. This year, at least 17 separate Bison Day events will be occurring all around the country, including at New York’s Bronx Zoo and Queens Zoo. They’re happening at state parks, museums and even restaurants.

It’s easier than you think to go see bison in person this Bison Day. Bison currently live in all 50 U.S. states; in addition to zoos, a number of public herds are accessible on federal land.

We are also stirring excitement around bison on social media this year with the launch of Beards for Bison. In solidarity with the bearded beasts, we invited the public to snap a photo of themselves wearing a beard (real or fake) and post to their social media accounts with the hashtag #beardsforbison. This may explain an uptick in furriness on your feeds this week.

An American Bison bull in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Cristián Samper © WCS.

We aim to keep the momentum for National Bison Day going next year with even more events and opportunities for public engagement. Alongside the National Bison Legacy Act — the legislation to make bison our National Mammal — we plan to re-introduce another resolution to commemorate National Bison Day and gain more supporters in the House and Senate.

As we celebrate all thing bison this week, I invite you to learn about these special and iconic animals and perhaps pay them a visit at your local zoo or at a public herd. Just make sure to jump out of the way if you hear that rumbling get too close.