Bison came a step closer to being named the U.S. national mammal after the House of Representatives passed legislation to have the buffalo join the bald eagle as a national symbol.
The National Bison Legacy Act was expected to be approved by the U.S. Senate this week, reported the Washington Post
. Once dominating the Great Plains in the 1800s, the animal was nearly hunted into extinction.
Bison were important to Native American societies living in the Great Plains as a source of food and other uses, according to National Geographic.
Settlers killed about 50 million bison for food, hides, sport and even to deprive Native Americans of the animals.
Today, about 200,000 bison live on preserves and ranches where they are raised for their meat. Bison can grow to weigh more than a ton, stand up to 6 ½ feet tall, and run as fast as 40 miles per hour.
"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," former South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson said in 2014 in sponsoring the act, according to USA Today
A Wildlife Conservation Society news release
said more than 60 groups were involved in pushing Congress to approve the act "to officially commemorate the ecological, cultural, historical and economic contribution of bison."
John Calvelli, the society's executive vice president of public affairs, told the Post that the massive bison killoff in the 1800s was often tied to harming Native Americans.
"We fundamentally killed every bison," Calvelli said. "We had taken this animal that was an incredibly important symbol of our country, of America, and incredibly important, religiously, for Native Americans — we got to the point when these animals were on the brink of extinction."
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