It’s looking more and more like federal officials are laying the groundwork for the return of limited grizzly bear hunting in the lower 48.

From this story in the Missoulian:
With bear-human conflicts on the rise, wildlife managers in the Northern Rockies are laying the groundwork for trophy hunts for grizzlies in anticipation of the government lifting their threatened species status. It’s expected to be 2014 before about 600 bears around Yellowstone National Park lose their federal protections, and possibly longer for about 1,000 bears in the region centered on Glacier National Park.

Yet already 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 of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho where run-ins with humans and livestock attacks have increased in recent years.

According to the story, while there is still widespread opposition to lifting the grizzly’s protections and allowing hunting, state and federal officials say hunting grizzlies is simply a management tool just as it is for any other big-game species. A federal-state bear oversight committee is meeting next week in Montana and will consider adopting a policy that favors limited hunting of grizzlies.

If approved, would a lower 48 grizzly hunt quickly become the most coveted tag in North America?