President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law on May 9, 2016. Both houses of Congress agreed unanimously with the approved bill sponsored by Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo.
Recognized for its historical, and cultural significance in Northern America, the bison is the national mammal of the United States.
Where do bison roam naturally? National Parks, including Yellowstone, on buffalo reserves, and happily on Catalina Island for almost 100 years. The first to arrive on the island came by boat in the 1920s.
Some Islanders will tell you these furry mammals starred in Zane Grey’s silent film, The Vanishing American. Others will tell you, it was another movie that never hit the big screen. What did happen, is that someone transported them by boat and then left them on chewing gum magnet William Wrigley’s island.
With no natural predators, their population exploded to an all time high of more than 600, according to the Catalina Island Conservancy. It became costly tracking them all and monitoring the ecological damage they made to the native vegetation. Catalina Island is home to more than 60 plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world.
When some brazen bison wandered into the town of Avalon, the city officials knew something had to be done. First the island authorized some hunting; however animal rights activists didn’t like this solution at all. Next the island rounded up and shipped hundreds by barge, over to Wilmington on the mainland, and then trucked them to South Dakota to live on a reserve. That was costly.
Then a brilliant team decided to put the females on birth control. Every spring since the 1990s, a team traverses the island by jeep and foot to shoot a dart gun filled with a contraceptive into female cows. It’s working well in keeping the population down to a manageable 150 bison.
Why does the island keep the bison? It’s big business for tourism. Every cruise ship that arrives to the island has hundreds of passengers ready to take an inland scenic tour in hopes of seeing a North American bison or two chewing on grass. It’s the only designation in California where you can do that.
According to the Catalina Island Chamber, visitors come from all over the world to experience the Mediterranean ambiance 22 miles across the ocean from the Port of Long Beach. Sailing on the Catalina Express to see Catalina’s wildlife is a big draw for tourists.
After sighting bison, tourists enjoy propelling down five zip-line stations located 300 feet above the Catalina canyon floor. Many rent golf carts to explore the town of Avalon before grabbing a bite to eat at the Avalon Grille, Maggie’s Blue Rose Mexican Fare or Bluewater Grill right on the picturesque harbor.
There is a fun miniature golf course for family and a challenging nine-hole canyon golf course, too.
Those seeking more wildlife viewing, can kayak from the Descanso Beach Club to see dolphins, flying fish, California sea lions and the bright orange Garibaldi fish. Looking up along the rugged terrain, one might spot a bison or two grazing near the edge, which offers expansive Pacific Ocean views.