The North American bison, widely known as the buffalo, will now likely be recognized as America’s “national mammal”—on par with the bald eagle. (Thebill is heading to the president’s desk.)
It is a fine tribute to a creature etched into American lore. While praises are already being made to the efforts of conservationists and modern environmentalists to save North America’s largest land mammal, the reality is that the species was saved by capitalism.
After describing how bison populations “dwindled from tens of millions to the brink of extinction,” a Huffington Post contributor wrote that the animal must be “acknowledged as the first success story of the modern conservation movement.”
Conservationists did play a role in saving the buffalo from extinction, but it was in large part the power of the free market that allowed the once-decimated species to thrive after nearly being wiped out.
The Bison as an Icon of the Old West
Any description of the Great Plains in the 19th century usually involves vast herds of the giant, imposing bison dotting the landscape. The great frontier historian, Francis Parkman, included numerous, vivid descriptions of buffalo herds and hunts in his books.
Parkman wrote in “The Oregon Trail,”
The face of the country was dotted far and wide with countless hundreds of buffalo. They trooped along in files and columns, bulls, cows, and calves … They scrambled away over the hills to the right and left; and far off, the blue pale swells in the extreme distance were dotted with innumerable specks.
Native American tribes of the Great Plains relied on the American bison for food when early American pioneers encountered them in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Plains Indians had unique hunting methods that were efficient, yet wasteful.
Anyone who has spent time in Wyoming, Montana, or any one of the Plains states is likely to have encountered giant, seemingly random craters. These are the remains of what were called “buffalo jumps,” and were the primary way many tribes cultivated the animal for food.
Frontier explorer Meriwether Lewis, of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition, described one of these jumps in an 1805 journal entry:
Today we passed on the Stard. side the remains of a vast many mangled carcases of Buffalow which had been driven over a precipice of 120 feet by the Indians and perished; the water appeared to have washed away a part of this immence pile of slaughter and still their remained the fragments of at least a hundred carcases they created a most horrid stench. in this manner the Indians of the Missouri distroy vast herds of buffaloe at a stroke.
It was a ruthless affair, but it got the job done. Squandering enormous quantities of meat was simply not a problem for the nomadic people of the plains. There seemed to be endless amounts of the beasts.
Undated photo of a man standing on an enormous pile of buffalo skulls. (Photo: Picture History/Newscom)
The dwindling of the American bison began long before settlers arrived, but a swelling population of new migrants finally put the species at risk. And the intentional extermination of the herds to drive out the Plains Native Americans left the buffalo on the brink of annihilation. At one point, there were only 300 of them left in the wild.
Saved by a Free Society and Market Economics
Though the social and economic dynamics of the 19th century came close to wiping out the American bison, the species survived and began a recovery in the 20th century. The wild-roaming bison had been hunted mercilessly to the brink of destruction, but widespread private ownership allowed them to flourish.
Historian Larry Schweikart wrote about a study by Andrew C. Isenberg, now a professor at Temple University, which busted the myth that it was government intervention that saved the bison. From a small herd clinging to survival in Yellowstone National Park, the bison began their resurgence. Isenberg’s conclusion “upsets the entire apple cart of prior assumptions,” according to Schweikart:
Saved from what ?
Oh, I hope not!
Obama relaxed federal rules so that wind turbine companies can kill an extra 4,200 bald eagles a year without penalty — nearly four times the current limit…..for each company!
Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are about 143,000 bald eagles in the United States.
Some of the buffalo still roaming wild and free are on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake.
Legal buffalo hunts still take place there to cull the herd so it doesn’t overgraze the food available on the island.
Some hunters have applied for 20 years to get a tag to hunt one.
Please provide a link showing how many are killed
When I looked I saw the total for both Bald and Golden to be 67 since 2008
4000 seems very high over a hundred each year in every state
Again please link to your inflated number
@John: I didn’t say how many were killed at all, johnny.
I said Obama raised the number of killed eagles before a penalty kicks in.
That new number is 4,200.
Here’s a few of the search results in the news:
When turbine companies bother to count their dead birds (which is voluntary) they always say they are under the legal limit where the penalty kicks in.
Unfortunately for them, independent birding communities document eagle/hawk/falcon/shrike deaths.
This forced Obama to up the legal limit.
But, never fear, there is a small penalty if these companies go over the limit.
They pay it and they can kill all the eagles they want!
But right now is the number much much lower?
The figure I saw was less than 70 dead Eagles in last 7 years
It woukd seem wouldn’t it that it would be highly unlikely for that number to go to 4000 anytime soon
And that far more eagles are killed by shooting poisons or electric lines
Audubon is a big backer of wind turbines I think I will go with their opinion on wind power instead of scare headlines about what “could” happen
Nanny most of the bird deaths are at places like Altamint CA which use 1st generation turbines that spin rather fast
However even at Altamont the number of raptors including golden eagles who were killed fell by 50% from 2095-2015
Again I think I will go with Audubon’s opinion on wind turbines, that properly sites turbines are a better way of generating power than fossil fuel plants