The U.S. Department of Interior announced it intends to lift endangered species protections for the population of grizzly bears living in the greater Yellowstone region on Thursday.
The decision, effective by the end of July, will turn over management of the animals to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
Calling the recovery of the Grizzly population around Yellowstone one of America's great conservation successes, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said it's time to return the overall management to the states and tribes.
The decision to de-list the Yellowstone Grizzly was praised by both the Montana and Wyoming congressional delegations.
"The recovery of the iconic Grizzly Bear is a remarkable success story – one which we should celebrate while remaining focused on protecting the very habitat that made recovery possible," said Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
Sen. Steve Daines quickly praised the announcement Thursday that federal protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears would be lifted.
“It will be great to see the grizzly bear recovered and off the endangered species list,” Daines said in a press release. “I was 12 years old growing up in Bozeman when steps began to restore the grizzly bear population. As an avid backpacker, hiker and fisherman, I know firsthand the importance of conservation to Montana. I look forward to continuing to work with the state of Montana as they take the lead in the management of the grizzly."
“Grizzlies in and around Yellowstone have made an incredible recovery, and the best available science – along with a smart Montana-driven management plan – must guide their future success," said Sen. Jon Tester.
"With this act, management control of the Grizzly Bear in the Yellowstone Ecosystem returns to Montana, where it belongs. The next step is to de-list the Grizzly Bear across all of Montana," said newly minted house representative Greg Gianforte.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, who has backed the de-listing since 2013, also praised the decision.
“Grizzly bears have met or exceeded recovery objectives since 2003 and have long warranted delisting. In 2013, I asked Secretary Salazar to delist the grizzly bears and much work toward this end has been done. I appreciate that the FWS is proceeding now with the delisting,” Mead said in a press release. “The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, which includes the FWS and Wyoming Game and Fish, must be commended for its years of great work. Thanks to the team effort, grizzlies will be managed appropriately by our experts at Game and Fish. I thank all involved in the delisting effort.”
“This has been a priority of the association for years and is a critical first step for the State of Montana to regain management of the bear population" the Montana Stockgrowers Association said.
But the decision has not sat well with several environmental groups.
The Western Environmental Law Center quickly condemned the decision.
"The Service’s determination that an isolated population of 700 grizzlies is fully recovered and no longer in need of federal protections - is absurd. It’s a purely political decision devoid of any scientific support," it said.
"As we look ahead, our goal is to ensure both grizzly bears and this bedrock wildlife law aren't victims of short-sighted politics," said the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
Fish Wildlife and Parks said it's not looking to start a hunting season through this de-listing and that it's in compliance with the Endangered Species Act.
A final ruling turning jurisdiction over to the states can be expected by late July.
That time frame, Zinke said, will allow Montana, Wyoming and Idaho officials to plan limited bear hunts outside the park's boundaries as long as the bear population does not fall below 600.
Hunting bears inside Yellowstone will still be banned.
The bears have been protected under federal law for more than 40 years.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Yellowstone grizzly bear population has rebounded from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 or more today.