The number of grizzly bears in northwestern Montana has increased to a point they will be the first in the lower 48 states to be removed from the federal endangered species list, a bear expert said this week.

Grizzly bear experts agreed this week they can begin the process of removing those bears from the list, according to Dale Stickland, chairman of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.The bears in the Glacier National Park and Bob Marshall Wilderness areas havebeen a "threatened" species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

"The population in the northern Continental Divide ecosystem appears to be invery good shape as far as its reproductive and mortality rates are concerned. Itappears to have approached the targets of the recovery plan," Strickland said at the conclusion of the committee's annual winter conference at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices in Lakewood.