Grizzly bears living at Yellowstone National Park in the U.S may soon find their Endangered Species tag removed as state and federal wildlife managers are holding parleys on it.
A meeting of officials is in progress in Cody, Wyoming, and they are discussing a post-delisting action plan.
The lifting of federal protection for the Yellowstone bears was mooted in March by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Grizzly bears were accorded protection in 1975 when their Yellowstone population crashed to fewer than 136 bears.
New estimates are claiming that the population has soared above 700. The emerging concern is that delisting would set the stage for hunting seasons that may be managed by the states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, which could again reduce the bears' numbers.
Conservationists Not Happy
The delisting plan has raised the hackles of conservationists even as officials are trying to address concerns saying that post-delisting plan would ensure that their numbers would never drop below 600.
State wildlife agencies would be regulating the quota of huntable animals and try to keep the numbers steady.
Conservation advocates are not convinced, and they say delisting could derail the progress made on the conservation front over the years.
Yellowstone superintendent Dan Wenk said visitors wanted to see grizzly bears in their natural environment and is opposed to delisting. Wenk voted against the plan.
The fear of conservationists is that there is a grave threat from poaching to the grizzly population if the legal protection is removed.
Once hunting is allowed, hunters may not be able to chase the grizzlies on national park land. But hunting will start outside the parks and the outskirts, such as the Grand Teton National Park.
To the assertion of Dan Ashe, Fish and Wildlife Service director, that there was tremendous success in conservation and that the "Endangered Species Act [had] done its job", Roger Hayden, managing director of the Wyoming Wildlife Advocates asked, "why there is haste" in delisting.
"'What is the rush to delist and why can't we wait to delist them for a couple years?" Hayden asked.
Environmental activists like Bonnie Rice of the Sierra Club are also disappointed.
"By the time bears sink down to 500, if it's caught, which again we think there are issues with proposed mortality limits, then we are far down that road in terms of trying to build back a population of bears we have now because they reproduce so slowly," she said.
However, wildlife officials are pointing to a recent study that appeared in the journal Molecular Ecology, that said the genetic diversity in the bear population has stabilized and "the number of bears passing genes to the next generation," quadrupled.