The bald eagle's 234-year reign as the sole symbolic animal of the US is about to come to an end. The National Bison Legacy Act passed by Congress—and expected to pass the Senate next week, per CNN—denotes the bison as America's national mammal and a "historical symbol of the United States," joining the bald eagle as the national animal, the oak as the national tree, and the rose as the national flower, reports the Guardian. Though the move will come with no additional protections for bison, a rep for the Wildlife Conservation Society says it's a "milestone in a long journey … to prevent the bison from going extinct and to recognize the bison's ecological, cultural, historical, and economic importance." It's also fitting since the bison "is as strong as the oak, fearless as the bald eagle, and inspiring as a rose."
"No other indigenous species tells America's story better," says Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Missouri, who was among those to write and sponsor the bipartisan bill. It's "an enduring symbol of strength, Native American culture, and the boundless Western wildness." The animal—already the state mammal of Wyoming and state animal of Oklahoma and Kansas, a WCS rep writes at the Huffington Post—"has had a special place in the lives of tribal people since time immemorial and played important roles in our culture, religion and lifestyle," adds a rep for the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council, which led the effort on behalf of some 60 tribes, groups, and businesses. Pushed to the brink of extinction in the late 19th century, bison now number 400,000 in commercial herds across the country, with another 30,000 in the wild. (Read more bison stories.)