Court rules on whether you can shoot gray wolves

Gray wolf still listed as threatened in MN, for now

Another federal court has rejected an effort to roll back federal protections for the gray wolf in Minnesota and a few other states. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled Tuesday that the Fish and Wildlife Service did not follow the law in 2011 when it declared the wolf "recovered" in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

In upholding a lower court ruling, the judges said the Endangered Species Act does allow the government to take an animal off the endangered list in certain areas – but only if a process is followed. And the court said the Fish and Wildlife Service did not follow the process. 

Wolf numbers rebounding in some places 

Back in 1978 when the wolf first went on the Endangered Species List, northeastern Minnesota was the only place in the lower 48 states where the wolf still lived. 

Under federal protection, its numbers bounced back so well that the Fish and Wildlife said the protections could be lifted in the western Great Lakes and Wyoming. There was even a wolf hunting season the following year. 

But critics argued the wolf's recovery is in a very small part of the country and protections are still needed for its long-term survival. A lawsuit by the Humane Society of the U.S. led to a 2014 ruling that reversed the government's "de-listing" of the wolf. Tuesday's appeals court ruling upheld that. 

Congress planning to step in 

Early this year, lawmakers of both parties said they're working together on a bill to remove wolf protections in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Wyoming. 

That effort is still alive and may pick up steam after the appeals court ruling. In the Senate, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar is co-sponsor of a bill that has passed one committee. And The Hill reports a House bill authored by Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson is waiting for a hearing. 

The Hill says the idea is to order the Fish and Wildlife Service to undo wolf protections in those four states in a way that can't be overridden by the courts. 

So what are Minnesota's wolf rules?

In Minnesota the gray wolf is listed as threatened rather than endangered. Nobody's allowed to kill a wolf, though. 

If a farmer is losing livestock to a wolf, federal trappers can be called in to kill the animal, the Duluth News Tribune reports. 

The latest state estimate of wolf numbers in Minnesota said there were nearly 2,300 animals in more than 400 packs in the winter of 2015-16. 

The Humane Society and the Minnesota group Howling For Wolves put out statements applauding Tuesday's court ruling. 

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Gray wolves in Minnesota are coming off endangered species list

The Obama administration on Wednesday said that more than 4,000 gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan have recovered from the threat of extinction and will officially be removed from federal protection. Meanwhile the Minnesota DNR says it is ready to take over managing the animal. And the Associated Press looks into the wolf's still-uncertain future.

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Gray wolves will have more protection in northern Minnesota, which is their core habitat. The DNR says livestock and pet owners will be able to protect their animals under the new system. The state takes over wolf management from the federal government next week.