BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana wildlife commissioners adopted a grizzly bear conservation plan Monday that would maintain the largest population of the bruins in the Lower 48 at roughly current numbers even if the species loses its federal protections.
The plan sets a target of at least 800 grizzlies across a 16,000-square mile (42,000-square kilometer) expanse of the state just south of the U.S.-Canada border. But officials again pledged to maintain the population at its current level of roughly 1,000 bears to provide a protective buffer.
The area includes Glacier National Park and the vast Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Monday’s decision by Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission came as state officials have been trying to show they have enough regulations in place to prevent bears from sliding toward extinction if they lose their threatened species status.
Grizzlies in the Lower 48 are federally protected as a threatened species, but would revert to state control if those protections are lifted. Efforts by federal officials to do so stalled in September, when a judge reversed a U.S. Interior Department decision that would have allowed hunting of the animals in areas around Yellowstone National Park.
The Yellowstone region includes portions of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho and is home to the second largest group of bears in the Lower 48.
Despite their federally-protected status, bears from both populations are routinely killed during run-ins with hunters or following attacks on livestock.
For the population that includes Glacier park, a record 51 grizzlies have been removed this year, according to the Hungry Horse News . Most were killed although some ended up in zoos or were relocated.
Ten were removed by government biologists; 36 were human-caused, which includes bears shot during run-ins with hunters; four were natural deaths and one was undetermined. The greatest spike in deaths was from collisions with vehicles, which resulted in 17 bears and dependent cubs being killed or moved to zoos.