BILLINGS, Mont. - With bear-human conflicts rising, wildlife managers in the northern Rockies are laying the groundwork for trophy hunts for the animals in anticipation that the government will lift their threatened-species status.
It's expected to be two more years before about 600 bears around Yellowstone National Park lose federal protection, and possibly longer for about 1,000 bears in the region centered on Glacier National Park.
Government officials say those populations have recovered to the point that limited hunting for small numbers of bears could occur after protections are lifted - and without harm to the species' decades-long recovery. That could include hunts in areas where bear-human conflicts and livestock attacks are rising.
A federal-state committee that oversees grizzly bears will consider adopting a pro-hunting policy next week during a meeting in Missoula.
It's taken decades for grizzlies to rebound from widespread extermination, and some wildlife advocates say it's too soon to talk about a hunt.
State wildlife officials said hunting was a proven approach of wildlife management.
Grizzlies lost their threatened species status in 2007 in the Yellowstone region, but protections were restored two years later by a federal judge.
At least 51 bears have died so far this year in the Yellowstone area, the U.S. Geologic Survey says. Most have died during run-ins with hunters and at the hands of wildlife agents who kill bears that cause repeated problems.