HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A federal wildlife official says the government will consider lifting threatened species protections for an estimated 1,000 grizzly bears in northwestern Montana.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife grizzly recovery coordinator Hilary Cooley told Montana lawmakers Thursday that a proposal to lift protections could come next year.

The bears in the Northern Continental Divide area that includes Glacier National Park make up the largest population of grizzlies in the Lower 48.

Biologists say the animals doubled their range since they were given protections in 1975 and now occupy 22,000 square miles.

Federal officials in July lifted protections on an estimated 700 grizzlies in the Yellowstone region of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, opening the door to potential trophy hunts. Wildlife advocates want the courts to restore the protections.

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