On Thursday, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke officially removed Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears from the federal Endangered Species Act.

Grizzly Bear recovery Coordinator Hilary Cooley said from her office at the University of Montana that the delisting could have happened back in 2007, but a court challenge left the bears with endangered species protections for another decade. Today, the population has rebounded from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 today and meets all the criteria for delisting.

"We have more data now, and grizzly bears today still meet the recovery criteria, we have adequate regulatory mechanisms in place, and we have been working closely with the states that if they do choose to allow hunting of the bears, those safeguards will be in effect and we have a really good monitoring plan in place," Cooley said. "Our job as stewards of the Endangered Species Act is to get the species recovered and then remove them from the list."

Cooley said the Yellowstone ecosystem is approximately three times larger than Yellowstone National Park itself.

"It encompasses parts of all three states," she said. "Wyoming mostly, but also parts of Montana and Idaho. Those states will individually decide if grizzly bear hunting will take place by sticking to some mortality limits, and that's any human-caused mortality, whether it's being hit by a truck or a management removal, or if the states do have a hunt, that mortality limit would apply."

Cooley said the fact that President  Donald Trump chose Ryan Zinke to be the Interior Secretary had nothing to do with the delisting announcement on Thursday.

That had nothing to do with it," she said. "This has been a long, long process. As I said, we tried to delist in 2007. Along with this listing, it's paired with a conservation strategy and we had prepared a draft of that several years ago, so it's a multi-year process and you have to start way ahead, so we were going to recommend delisting no matter who was secretary, because they had met their recovery goals."

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