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 US government officials ruled Thursday that the population is no longer threatened, the AP reports. Grizzlies in all US 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, leading the US 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% 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. That will allow those states to plan limited bear hunts outside the park's boundaries as long as the overall bear population does not fall below 600 bears. Some 125 tribes have signed a treaty opposing trophy hunting grizzly bears, which Native Americans consider a sacred animal. (Read more grizzly bear stories.)