Wildlife officials have moved one step closer to removing the Yellowstone grizzly population from the Endangered Species Act by approving a future conservation strategy.
The Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee voted to approve the conservation strategy, sending it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of what has been a months-long process to potentially remove the Yellowstone grizzly from federal protection, The Cody Enterprise reported.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed lifting the federal protections for the Yellowstone bears in March. Grizzly bears were first listed as threatened in 1975 when the Yellowstone population was estimated to have as few as 136 bears. Recent estimates say the population is now above 700.
Delisting the Yellowstone bears would give more management responsibility to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho and open the door for potential hunting seasons.
"This is huge," said Park County commissioner Lee Livingston, who is also president of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association.
Not everyone was on board with delisting the bears. Dan Wenk, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, voted against the conservation strategy and Leander Watson of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe abstained.
Tribal leaders have opposed delisting because the grizzly is considered sacred in some religions and also because hunting will be an element of the states' management program.