Grizzly bears are out of the endangered zone in and around Yellowstone National Park.
“As a kid who grew up in Montana, I can tell you that this is a long time coming and very good news for many communities and advocates in the Yellowstone region,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced on June 22.
The bear’s population has grown from 136 in 1975, when they were formally listed as endangered in the lower 48 states, to roughly 700 today.
That population exceeds the government’s minimum recovery goal of 500 bears in the greater Yellowstone region, encompassing parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
Zinke said the recovery of the bear was the result of decades of hard work by state, tribal, federal and private partners.
“This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes,” he said.
With their numbers solid, grizzlies will be stripped of Endangered Species Act safeguards this summer, in a move conservation groups vowed to challenge in court.
The Sierra Club said it is too early in the bear’s recovery to delist it, which would open the bear for hunting outside the park.
The group argues the bear faces other threats that have not been factored into the decision, including a decline in whitebark pine nuts and cutthroat trout, two primary food sources for bears.
“Their loss has driven grizzlies to find other food sources, like garbage, hunter-killed elk carcasses or livestock, that often bring them into conflict with people,” writes Dan Chu the director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign, on the group’s website.
The group wants the effects of climate change factored into any decision to delist them.
Dropping federal protection of Yellowstone’s grizzlies was proposed by the Obama administration in March 2016 based on findings that the bears’ numbers have rebounded in recent decades.
Prior to being listed in 1975, grizzlies had been hunted, trapped, and poisoned to near extinction.
Hunting of the bears will be overseen by state wildlife managers in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.