Tribes want protections to remain for sacred grizzly bears

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) _ American Indians across the West are calling for continued federal protections of grizzly bears in the Northern Rockies, saying they oppose trophy hunting of a species many tribes consider sacred.

The Interior Department is considering lifting protections for an estimated 700 to 1,000 grizzly bears in a vast wilderness centered on Yellowstone National Park. That would put the animals under state management and open the door to limited hunting.

The former chairman of Arizona's Hopi tribe, Ben Nuvamsa, says his people regard the grizzly as an ``uncle'' possessing strong healing powers.

Nuvamsa and representatives of dozens of other tribes say they have been denied formal consultations on the government's upcoming decision.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Serena Baker says the agency is seeking to balance the tribes' concerns with science that indicates grizzlies have recovered from widespread extermination.