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When the chips are down, Congress turns to the buffalo

May 30, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • An adult bison with her calf in Camp Pendelton, Calif.
An adult bison with her calf in Camp Pendelton, Calif. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

Bipartisanship, it turns out, was just a big hairy animal away for Congress.

It seems that the bison has done what balancing the budget, the Medicare/Social Security mess and jobs and the economy couldn’t: get America’s legislators to find common ground.

Apparently, the bison is to become our national mammal.

"Since our frontier days, the bison has become a symbol of American strength and determination," Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said in introducing the National Bison Legacy Act.

Uh, yes, but:  Doesn’t that kind of gloss over the fact that in our frontier days the bison was also a symbol of Americans’ savage disdain for both nature and Native Americans?  Didn’t we hunt the beast to near extinction for its hide, its meat, for sport -- oh, and to deprive the Plains tribes a vital source of food?

Well, sure, but let’s let bygones be bygones.  After all, there are hundreds of thousands of the beasts roaming parts of the country today (OK, roaming may be a stretch for some of them, but they’re alive, aren’t they?).

The designation would put the buffalo in storied, though symbolic, company, adding it to the bald eagle, the rose and the oak tree as official national symbols.

Perhaps next session Congress could add the lobster as our official crustacean.  After all, you know how the folks in Washington love to dine on lobster while talking about ways to help the common folk.

Speaking of helping out the economy, the bison is such a favorite these days that even Democrats sound downright Republican when describing it:

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), one of the bill’s cosponsors, said the importance of bison in his state "extends far beyond its symbolism and our heritage.  Colorado has a thriving bison ranching industry that sustains herds of these majestic creatures while also creating jobs and driving commerce."

Yep, it has a nice ring to it: Step right up, folks, see our national mammal -- and eat one too!

Though seemingly everyone is a bison lover these days, some are hoping for a little more:

Cindy Hoffman of Defenders of Wildlife welcomed the idea of declaring the bison the national mammal. But, she said: "Providing resources to restore bison to some of their former range, like on tribal reservations, is an even greater idea.  Congress should look beyond the symbolism of this proposal and make a commitment to conserving bison and other imperiled wildlife.”

Well, Cindy, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.  

See, it’s easy for folks in Congress to get behind the beast -- as long as it isn’t in the way.  But just wait until someone finds oil or natural gas where some of those buffalo roam.

There’s nothing quite like money to bring out the Buffalo Bill on Capitol Hill.

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