CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming has asked the federal government to remove grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park from protection under the Endangered Species Act, a request which if approved could allow the animals to be hunted.
The bears' recovery from as few as 136 animals when they were first protected as a threatened species in 1975 to more than 1,000 today is a success story, the state argued in its petition Monday.
The Yellowstone region spans Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Wyoming filed the petition with the formal support of Idaho and Montana officials.
Grizzlies in the area are "ready to join the ranks of the bald eagle, American alligator, peregrine falcon and brown pelican as receiving proper recognition as a thriving, recovered and stable species,” Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, said in a statement Tuesday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to review the petition. From there, it can either deny the request or study it for up to a year before making a decision.
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.
The Center for Biological Diversity, a group long involved in litigation over Yellowstone's grizzlies, called Wyoming's petition "outrageous."
“There is no science to back the claim that grizzlies no longer need protection. Federal officials need to send a clear message by swiftly rejecting this request,” Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney with the group, said in a statement Tuesday.
As many as 50,000 grizzlies once roamed over the western half of the U.S. but their numbers declined amid hunting and habitat loss following the arrival of European settlers.
In December, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, petitioned federal officials to lift protections for a separate population of more than 1,000 grizzlies in and near Glacier National Park on the Canadian border. Wildlife advocates also have expressed concern about that request, saying it could lead to overhunting.
Only limited hunting would be allowed and could be shut down if too many bears were being killed, Montana officials said in their petition for the Glacier-area delisting.
Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this report.