Billings, Mont. – A federal judge in Montana has ordered
the restoration of endangered species protections for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula granted a preliminary injunction Friday that derails planned public hunts for the predators.
Montana, Idaho and Wyoming all planned hunts in the fall - the first since wolves were wiped out in the region early last century.
Wolves in the region were removed from the endangered species list in March, following a decade-long restoration effort.
Environmentalists sued to overturn the decision. They claimed the loss of federal protection would threaten the wolf's recovery.
The region has an estimated 2,000 wolves - a population that has been soaring and increasingly preying on livestock. Federal and state officials said hunting was needed to keep the predator under control.
But Molloy said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had failed to demonstrate wolves had sufficiently recovered.
He said there was not enough proof wolves were interbreeding sufficiently to protect their genetics.