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OUR VIEW: Give the bison its due, name it national mammal

A "national mammal" for the United States? We like the idea, and if some lawmakers from western states get their way, the American bison could someday be an animal of official historical note, duly recognized by the government of this country.

The National Bison Legacy Act was introduced in the Senate and is backed by lawmakers from South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, North Dakota and, oddly, Rhode Island.

S.D. Sen. Tim Johnson is one of the bill's chief sponsors.

According to a report last week by The Associated Press, the measure is mostly symbolic and wouldn't mean much would change for the shaggy old buffalo. That means no added protections, and also no leapfrogging past the bald eagle in terms of national significance.

However, the legacy act would give the buffalo some added recognition as a national symbol. The idea is to give the bison its due in recognition for its role as an enduring national icon.

The buffalo is North America's largest land mammal, and holds great significance to the native peoples of our continent.

People of European ancestry are chiefly responsible for the buffalo's near demise a century ago -- overhunting was one cause, cattle grazing was another -- but people of all colors and backgrounds today tend to see the buffalo for what it really is: A beast that harkens back to our pioneering roots.

As for us, we see the buffalo as noble, steadfast and hearty, all of which are traits we also see in South Dakotans and others who live on the western Great Plains.

We say give the buffalo its due. Push the National Bison Legacy Act onward and into passage.

Put the mighty buffalo upon a pedestal that remains below that of the mighty bald eagle, but upon one that still pays homage to the cultural significance that the rugged creature holds out here on the Plains.