BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A panel of wildlife officials says it's time to remove federal protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park. Spokesman Gregg Losinski said members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of lifting protections.

The committee's recommendation will now be considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Losinski says that if the federal agency concurs, it could propose a rule by mid-2014 to end protections. A final rule is possible sometime in 2015.

Scientists have estimated that there are more than 700 grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. They have been protected under federal law since 1975. Taking them off the threatened list would put the animals under state control and open the door to limited hunting.