Of course, not all are happy with the prospect of the bears coming off the list. "You have the grizzly bear groupies who make a lot of money off the bears and don't trust the states to manage them correctly," says Harju. "Same goes for the conservation groups. They know that you're going to raise a hell of a lot more money for a grizzly bear than a prairie dog. No amount of >
Once all the state plans are approved, two major steps remain, according to Servheen. One is the critical issue of properly counting the bears. For years this has been a sticking point, in which emotion and politics have threatened to trump sound science (see sidebar below). Currently, bears are counted visually by trained spotters. Biologists then extrapolate an overall population figure based on how many bears they see. Historically, these numbers have represented what is known as the "minimum" population figure- in other words, it is a super-conservative tally of the bear population. The goal for the future is to get an accurate reading of the bear population in the Yellowstone area, and in order to do that, biologists need to recalibrate their survey techniques, Servheen says. Pegging the number at the correct level-and navigating through the political in-fighting this adjustment is certain to create-will take as long as a year. Under the current survey methodology, the greater Yellowstone ecosystem holds about 500 to 600 of the estimated 1,200 or so grizzlies in the Lower 48, according to Servheen. What that number will "grow" to be under the new counting system is still unknown. This new bear census will serve as the benchmark by which the success of the management practices are judged and will in turn be used to set hunting quotas. Under the conservation strategy, no more than 4 percent of the bear population can be removed by "human-caused" mortality in a year. This includes everything from the bear that is killed by an 18-wheeler crossing a highway to the food-habituated grizzly that needs to be put down.