A Louisiana black bear is seen in a water oak tree in Marksville, Lousiana, on May 17. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is making a proposal to remove the Louisiana black bear from the list of threatened species. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

The animal that inspired teddy bears may be removed from the list of protected species.

The Louisiana black bear population, once down to fewer than 100, has recovered, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is making a proposal to remove the bear from the list of threatened species, Deputy Director Steve Guertin said Wednesday.

State Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham said millions of children “can go to sleep cuddling their teddy bears and be sure that bear will be around for generations to come.”

Removal from the list would eventually let hunters kill at least a few of the bears that inspired plush “Teddy’s bears” after President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a tied-up animal for a hunting trophy in 1902.

Any hunting would begin after the bear is off the list and would be controlled as part of a management plan like the one under which alligators — on the endangered species list until 1987 — are hunted.

Clifford Berryman's cartoon "Drawing the Line in Mississippi," which appeared in The Washington Post in 1902, was the inspiration for the first teddy bear. (Berryman family papers/Smithsonian Institution/National Archives)

Some wildlife activists say they will fight to keep the protected status.

“I’ll see them in court,” said Harold Schoeffler, chairman of the local Sierra Club and the person whose legal actions prompted both the listing and the designation of critical habitat.

Louisiana black bears once ranged throughout Louisiana, southern Mississippi and eastern Texas. Now they’re found mostly in four areas in Louisiana, with some in south Arkansas and others in west Mississippi.

Governor Bobby Jindal estimated that as many as 1,000 black bears live in Louisiana; Schoeffler estimated it at 750.

“Seven-hundred-fifty from a traditional population of 20,000 is a sign that the bear is really in trouble,” he said last week. “The bear is already a target of outlaws shooting them for whatever reason, claiming they thought it was a hog.”

But Louisiana officials said the bear was a conservation success story.

“The state has invested more than $900,000 to restore the black bear,” Jindal said. He said $220,000 of that came from people who bought the Louisiana black bear license plate. Federal contributions brought the total to $2.4 million spent to stabilize the breeding population and protect and restore habitat.

Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt IV, who was in Louisiana for the announcement, told the story of his great-grandfather’s hunts for black bears in Mississippi. At a 1902 hunt, a guide tied up a bear and suggested that the president shoot it. President Roosevelt raised his hand in rejection of the unsportsmanlike idea. The scene was made famous by Washington Post cartoonist Clifford Berryman. Berryman’s cartoon later inspired the creation of stuffed animals called “Teddy’s bears.”

Associated Press