Jim Urquhart, Associated Press
FILE – In this Wednesday, July 6, 2011, file photo, a grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park. The U.S. Interior Department announced Thursday, June 22, 2017, that the grizzly population in the Yellowstone vicinity has recovered and federal protections will be lifted, which will allow Montana, Wyoming and Idaho to hold limited bear hunts outside park boundaries.
HELENA, Mont. — Protections that have been in place for more than 40 years for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park area will be lifted this summer after U.S. government officials ruled Thursday that the population is no longer threatened.
Grizzlies in all continental U.S. states except Alaska have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1975, when just 136 bears roamed in and around Yellowstone. There are now an estimated 700 grizzlies in the area that includes northwestern Wyoming, southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho, leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conclude that the population has recovered.
“This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement.
Grizzly bears once numbered about 50,000 and ranged over much of North America. Their population plummeted starting in the 1850s because of widespread hunting and trapping, and the bears now occupy only 2 percent of their original territory.
The final ruling by the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove Yellowstone grizzlies from the list of endangered and threatened species will give jurisdiction over the bears to Montana, Idaho and Wyoming by late July.