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Yellowstone grizzly bear removed from endangered list

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Washington (AFP)

Grizzly bears native to Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area are being removed from the endangered species list, the US government said Thursday, calling efforts to replenish the population a major success.

Conservation groups were however quick to criticize the move, saying dropping federal protections would again put grizzly bears at risk.

The grizzly bear was first placed on the endangered species list in 1975, when the population was down to 136.

Now, in the "greater Yellowstone ecosystem" covering parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, there are 700 bears, meeting the standard for delisting.

Grizzly bear populations in other parts of the continental United States remain protected, the Department of the Interior said in a statement.

"This achievement stands as one of America's great conservation successes," Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said, praising state, tribal and federal authorities as well as private-sector partners.

Management of the Yellowstone grizzly population will be returned to state and tribal authorities, the statement said.

Hunters and cattle ranchers in the affected area, who have lobbying power in Washington, had asked for the grizzly bear to be removed from the endangered species list.

They said the growth in the bear population was a danger to humans, cattle and other wild animals prized by hunters, such as the elk.

But conservation groups argue that anything that compromises ongoing efforts to restore the grizzly bear population is a risk.

They say the animals remain at risk due to their shrinking natural habitat and a dwindling supply of a main food source, whitebark pine, due to climate change, which has swollen the population of insects who destroy the trees.

"The grizzly fight is on. We'll stop any attempt to delist Yellowstone's grizzlies," said the non-profit Western Environmental Law Center.

Sylvia Fallon, senior scientist for the National Resources Defense Council, said: "The only certainty about grizzlies at this point is that the bears face a future of uncertainty."

The Department of the Interior will finalize its decision in the coming days. The move will go into effect 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

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