(CN) - A federal judge in Wyoming ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to explain why it rejected the state's management plan for gray wolves and refused to delist the species as endangered in Wyoming.
The agency initially approved Wyoming's plan, which proposes to classify wolves as trophy game in northwestern Wyoming and as predators that can be shot on sight throughout the rest of the state. It also dropped the gray wolf from the endangered species list in Idaho and Montana, and turned wolf management over to those states.
But when a federal judge in Montana blasted the agency for its decision to delist the species in Idaho and Montana but not Wyoming, the Fish and Wildlife Service opted to reinstate federal protection across the board.
"This rebuke from the court left the Service with only one option if it wanted to save the delisting rule - the Service had to admit that it was wrong to demand the statewide trophy game classification in 2004 and 2006," Wyoming argued. "Rather than admit this, the Service instead rescinded the delisting rule and eventually revoked its previous approval of the State's wolf management scheme."
The Fish and Wildlife Service defended its decision, saying Wyoming needed to give wolf protections more protection in the entire state, not just in Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding areas.
Though U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson did not weigh in on the adequacy of Wyoming's management plan, he agreed that the agency should have better explained why it rejected the state's plan in 2008.
Johnson said the agency "does not offer reasoned explanations why the entire state of Wyoming must be designated as a trophy game area when more than 70 percent of suitable wolf habitat is in the [greater Yellowstone area] and northwest Wyoming."
Jenny Harbine, of Earthjustice in Bozeman, Mont., told The Associated Press that the ruling doesn't alter the endangered status of northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves.
"Wolves remain subject to federal protections under the Endangered Species Act, and the Wyoming court's decision doesn't change that," she said.
Wyoming officials expect the federal government to appeal the decision.