The Green Buffalo symbolizes one of the first environmental success stories in our nation’s history. The most prominent large mammal to ever roam the continental U.S., the American Bison (aka Buffalo) numbered 40 million in 1800 and less than 100 years later, as few as 600 remained. Thanks to the conservation efforts of the era, the trend was reversed, ultimately preserving these majestic animals.
Conservation Efforts Give Historic American Bison a Future - Action to save species viewed as America’s first environmental success story
No North American mammal is identified more closely with the United States than the American bison, popularly known as the buffalo. Its enormous size and overwhelming numbers captured the imagination of early explorers and came to symbolize the exotic allure of the American West.
In the early 20th century, the American bison was poised to follow the mammoth and the wooly rhinoceros into extinction. Its rescue is considered by many to be the United States’ first environmental success story. A casualty of U.S. westward expansion, bison were slaughtered by the millions for their skins and as part of a deliberate strategy by the U.S. Army to deprive warring American Indian tribes of their food source.
In 1875, zoologist William Hornaday, who had traveled extensively seeking American bison for zoos, wrote a book predicting the extinction of the buffalo within two decades. The impending doom of an American icon so galvanized public opinion, especially among Easterners who romanticized the American West, that leading citizens like President Theodore Roosevelt lent their energies to saving the species.
The American Bison Society, with Roosevelt as its honorary president, was founded in 1905. It was one of United States’ first environmental organizations, and helped trigger a broader environmental movement that resulted in creation of the U.S. National Park System.
In 1908, Roosevelt signed a law creating the National Bison Range in Montana. The act set aside rangeland to provide a protected habitat within which wild buffalo herds could be re-established. A wild herd comprising 21 bison was settled in Wyoming in Yellowstone National Park. That herd, now numbering more than 4,000, is the largest group of free-range bison in the United States.
With help from private bison owners, the American Bison Society restocked a number of wildlife preserves, both public and private. Thanks to the efforts of both the public and private sectors, the American bison, a magnificent animal with a major role in U.S. history, seems assured of a place in America’s future as well.