The Yellowstone grizzly bear is to come off a US list of protected species as it no longer faces extinction, the US government has said.
Bear populations have been growing faster than many anticipated
The vast beasts, which often weigh more than 500kg (1,100lb), were placed under official protection in 1975, when their population had sunk to about 200.
Since then the numbers of grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park has almost trebled to about 600.
Hunting and erosion of habitat led to a fall in numbers in most of the US.
"The greater Yellowstone's population of grizzlies, a population that once was plummeting toward extinction, has now recovered," said US Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
Announcing plans to remove the grizzly bear from the list of endangered species in the Yellowstone area, she described it as a national icon now preserved for future generations.
"Our grandchildren's grandchildren will see grizzly bears."
The bear will remain on the federal protected list away from Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, states which border Yellowstone National Park.
There are an estimated 30,000 grizzly bears - or ursus arctos horribilis - roaming in Alaska, but the grizzly population in the main 48 US states was decimated in the 20th Century.
Any change to the bears' status is conditional on 90 days of public consultation, and is unlikely to come into effect before the latter stages of 2006.
Yellowstone is one of the US' most visited national parks
Bears would come off the protection list in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, where licensed and limited hunting would become legal.
News of the bears' recovery has provoked mixed reactions among conservationists.
Some hailed the imminent de-listing as proof that US laws to protect endangered species do work. Others believe the bears are still at risk.
"While we salute and celebrate this progress, we cannot afford to gamble with the bears' future," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, a lobby group.
"The Yellowstone grizzly bear is an irreplaceable part of America's natural heritage, an icon of all that is wild and free."