A judge restored federal protections to gray wolves in the the western Great Lakes region on Friday, reversing an earlier decision by the federal government to remove the animals from the endangered species list.
In a sharply worded 111-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell said the 2012 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take the wolves off the list and hand management responsibilities over to Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin was "arbitrary and capricious" and violated the Endangered Species Act.
Since the 2012 move, those three states have allowed wolves to be hunted. The Friday ruling bans any hunting and trapping of gray wolves in those states.
Howell criticized the states'
management plans as not doing enough to protect the wolves, and specifically rebuked Minnesota's policies for allowing "virtually unregulated killing" of wolves in large areas of the state.
In Wisconsin, 257 wolves were killed during the 2013-2014 winter season, according to state reports. This season 154 wolves were killed before officials ended the hunt on Dec. 5.
There are about 3,600 wolves in those three states, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Howell also said the 2012 decision to remove the animals from the endangered species list was based on insufficient evidence that the population had rebounded within the Great Lakes region.
The gray wolf was de-listed in Wyoming as well, but a judge restored federal protections in September after finding fault with that
state's wolf management plan.
The two rulings bode well for the future of wolf conservation, said Jonathan Lovvorn, chief counsel for the Humane Society of the United States, which filled the suit.
In particular, Friday's ruling creates more stringent standards for taking an animal off the endangered species list.
"I believe that this ruling will have reverberations beyond just the wolf case," he said.
Follow @jpanzar for national news.