Grizzly bears

Grizzly bears rest in a field in Yellowstone National Park. Wyoming, Montana and Idaho assumed management of grizzly bears in 2017, and are beginning to discuss possible hunting seasons. A coalition of conservation groups and tribes have also sued to put bears back on the endangered species list.

Jim Peaco, Yellowstone National Park

In late June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared grizzly bears recovered and proposed removing them from the endangered species list for the second time in a decade.

Their numbers hovered just below 700 in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, a swath of land covering Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

The delisting was a welcome decision for some, and a feared and criticized one for others.

Many Wyoming ranchers and hunters applauded the announcement. Grizzly bears had been recovered long enough, they said, and no longer needed federal protections. The state could adequately manage the large carnivores, including allowing a hunting season.

While Wyoming had not approved a hunting season yet, it has the framework in place to implement one.

On July 31, bears were officially removed from the endangered species list. Little changed on the ground for the animals. A hunting season is still only a theoretical possibility.

If hunting was allowed in Wyoming, biologists said only about 10 bears would likely be killed in a hypothetical 2018 season. Wyoming’s Game and Fish Commission would still need to approve any potential season, and the annual quotas would be based on the prior year’s population estimates and mortalities.

But the ability for the state to manage bears, or potentially allow people to kill them, is not a foregone conclusion.

Various groups including the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, the Sierra Club and The Humane Society sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in late August saying climate change and human conflicts are already putting too much pressure on the charismatic creature.

And in early December, U.S. officials said they were going to review removing protections from grizzlies because of a recent federal appeals court decision regarding wolves in the Great Lakes. The appeals court said that wildlife officials had not considered the loss of the species’ historical range in their decision to delist.

The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to release its conclusions by March 31.

Follow managing editor Christine Peterson on Twitter PetersonOutside

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Managing Editor

A Casper native, Christine Peterson started as a Star-Tribune intern in 2002. She has covered outdoor recreation, the environment and wildlife since 2010, and became managing editor in 2015. If not tracking bears or elk on assignment, she's chasing trout.

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