The North American bison is back. President Obama named it the official national mammal of the United States by signing the National Bison Legacy Act into law on May 9.
Once roaming freely from the Appalachian Mountains to Yellowstone National Park, it’s estimated that there were 20-30 million North American bison in the 1800s. But that number dwindled down to just about 1,000 when bison nearly became extinct as the U.S. expanded west and the animal was heavily hunted. Today, there’s approximately 500,000 North American bison.
On North Quarter Farm in Riverhead, New York, Ed Tuccio and Dee Muma have bred Bison for close to 30 years. “In 1986 my husband had really fallen in love with them when he was out on a ski trip and said, 'I have got to have some,'” Muma told Yahoo Finance’s Seana Smith. “I got them from a horse dealer at the Catskills game farm and two pregnant females came down the next day.”
Over the years, Muma and Tuccio’s breed has rapidly expanded. The farm now boasts about 150 bison across 250 acres of farmland. And this is just one example of the almost extinct bison making a huge comeback. Billionaire Ted Turner, with approximately two million acres of personal and ranch land, manages more than 51,000 bison across the various Turner ranches.
Turner, like Muma and Tuccio, farm bison for consumption, increasing the meats popularity and making what was once an exotic dish more mainstream. In 2002, Turner introduced a chain of steakhouses called Ted's Montana Grill, which features bison steaks and burgers. Muma and Tuccio also offer bison at their two restaurants in Riverhead, New York, Tweeds and Dark Horse. Their menus include bison kebab, bison burgers and bison cowboy steak.
The exploding demand for bison meat is prompting more restaurants to serve the item. Well-known restaurateur Danny Meyer offers bison burger at "Porchlight" in New York City, while national franchised burger chains like BareBurger and The Counter also sell bison dishes.
While bison is gaining popularity, it still has a ways to go to catch up to cattle. According to the National Bison Association, the number of bison slaughtered in 2014 hit 60,000, with sales of bison meat in restaurants and retail stores topping $340 million a year. That’s compared to the Department of Agriculture’s report that a staggering 125,000 cattle are killed per day for meat. A report by the Congressional Research Service forecasts cattle to account for over $73.6 billion in sales in 2016.
Dee tells Yahoo Finance she credits the health food craze for boosting bison sales, but says it will be a long time before its becomes a part of an everyday American diet. “We can only sell as many as people are constantly demanding, the rest we have to hang on to for breeding purposes,” said Muma.
According to the National Bison Association, now is a great time to be a part of the bison business, and the original red meat is “good for our health, good for our environment and absolutely delicious.”