Federal authorities are considering allowing a hunt for grizzly bears in the Rocky Mountains within the vicinity of Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks as early as 2014–possibly the closest the animal has come to being legally hunted in the lower 48 States in more than 30 years.

Federal officials are discussing plans to remove threatened species protection for the bears and transfer management authority to state agencies. The grizzly bear was listed as threatened in 1975 in the contiguous United States. Since then, the government has spent more than $20 million on grizzly bear restoration efforts, according to the Associated Press (AP). It is still legal to hunt grizzlies in Alaska and Canada.

Officials stress that the bear hunt, which would first take effect in Yellowstone and only later in Glacier national park, will be a strictly limited hunt.

“You could probably count [the number of bears allowed to be hunted] on one hand,” Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) told the AP.

The hunts would aim to reduce the number of human-bear conflicts and livestock attacks in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Grizzly bears killed four people in Yellowstone National Park in the past two years, an unusually high number. By comparison, 51 bears were killed by wildlife agents in the Yellowstone area because they were repeatedly causing problems or people felt threatened by the animal during an encounter, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has petitioned Secretary of the Department of the Interior Ken Salazar to remove federal protection awarded to the grizzly bear several times. Mead said that the species has “unquestionably recovered within the Yellowstone Ecosystem,” and that continued protection status is a financial burden on the state. Salazar, on behalf of the FWS, said the agencies must first conclude a study on the white bark pine tree and how that affects grizzly bear populations before any decision is made. Mead replied by asking to expedite the process that is slated to take  two years to conclude.

Image from lowjumpingfrog on the flickr Creative Commons

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