The bison, an Ice Age survivor that symbolizes strength and determination to many Americans, soon will join the bald eagle as a national emblem.

The U.S. Senate gave final approval to a bill to make the bison the national mammal of the United States on April 28, two days after the U.S. House of Representatives approved it. The National Bison Legacy Act now goes to the president’s desk. According to news sources, the president is expected to sign it into law.

“No other indigenous species tells America’s story better than this noble creature,” said Representative Lacy Clay of Missouri.

Tens of millions of bison, also known as buffalo, once thundered across a range stretching from central Canada through the Great Plains and northern Mexico. After a centurylong slaughter driven by commercial hunting for buffalo pelts, the population dwindled to a number in the hundreds by the turn of the 20th century. Now about 30,000 wild bison roam the country, with the largest population in Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times.

Native Americans and conservationists have joined to raise awareness of the animal’s essential role in providing food, shelter and clothing for many Native American tribes prior to European settlement.

Bison, known as “tatanka” to some tribes, are central to creation stories that say people were living beneath the earth’s surface “and the buffalo said, ‘Come up here and we will provide for you,'” said Jim Stone of the South Dakota–based InterTribal Buffalo Council.

This article draws on reports from the Associated Press.

On the move

Bison walking on grassy plain (National Park Service)
A herd of bison with calves in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park. (National Park Service)

Surviving harsh winters

Lone bison standing in snow with snow on his face (© AP Images)
A bison, its head crusted with ice and snow, looks up while foraging in Wyoming. (© AP Images)

Bison are back

Group of bison grazing with snowy mountain in background (© AP Images)
Since the late 1800s, bison numbers have risen from 500 to 30,000. (© AP Images)