CODY, Wyo. -

Wildlife officials have moved one step closer to removing the Yellowstone grizzly population from the Endangered Species Act by approving a future conservation strategy.

The Cody Enterprise reports that the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee voted to approve the conservation strategy, now sending it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of what has been a months-long process to potentially remove the Yellowstone grizzly from federal protection.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed lifting the federal protections for the Yellowstone bears in March. Grizzly bears were first listed as threatened in 1975 when the Yellowstone population was estimated to have as few as 136 bears. Recent estimates say the population has now climbed above 700.