A federal appeals court Tuesday retained federal protection for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region, ruling that the government acted prematurely when it dropped them from the endangered species list.
The court upheld a district judge who in 2014 overruled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which had determined that wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin had recovered after being shot, trapped and poisoned nearly out of existence in the previous century. They've bounced back and now total about 3,800.
The service announced in 2011 that wolves in the region would be stripped of their endangered status and managed on the state level.
In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., said the service had not adequately considered a number of factors in making its decision, including loss of the wolf's historical range and how its removal from the endangered list would affect the predator's recovery in other areas, such as New England, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The ruling prohibits the three states from having wolf hunting or trapping seasons, as they did when wolves were under their control.
"The second highest court in the nation reaffirmed that we must do much more to recover gray wolves before declaring the mission accomplished," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Wolves are still missing from more than 90 percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states, and both the Endangered Species Act and common sense tell us we can't ignore that loss."