The Biden administration took a first step Friday toward ending federal protections for grizzly bears in the northern Rocky Mountains, which would open the door to future hunting in several states.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the governors of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming provided “substantial” information that grizzlies have recovered from the threat of extinction in the regions surrounding Yellowstone and Glacier national parks.
Federal officials raised concerns about recently passed state laws that could affect grizzly populations, and Friday's move kicks off at least a year of further study before final decisions about the Yellowstone and Glacier regions.
State officials have insisted any future hunts would be limited and not endanger the overall population. However, Republican lawmakers in the region in recent years have adopted more aggressive policies against gray wolves, including loosened trapping rules that could lead to grizzlies being inadvertently killed.
As many as 50,000 grizzlies once roamed the western half of the U.S. They were exterminated in most of the country early last century by overhunting and trapping, and the last hunts in the northern Rockies occurred decades ago. There are now more than 2,000 bears in the Lower 48 states and much larger populations in Alaska, where hunting is allowed.
The federal government removed protections for the Yellowstone ecosystem’s grizzlies in 2017. Wyoming and Idaho were set to allow grizzlies to be hunted when a judge restored those protections in 2018, siding with environmental groups that said delisting wasn’t based on sound science. Those groups want protections kept in place so bears can continue moving into new areas.