Gray wolves have been added back to the endangered species list in the Great Lakes region.
As of Dec. 19, it is once again illegal to kill a gray wolf in any of the Great Lakes states. U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ruled that the Obama administration's decision to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list was "arbitrary and capricious," while also violating the Endangered Species Act.
The order impacts hunting in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, where more than 1,500 gray wolves have been killed since federal protections were removed in 2012. Provided it's not overturned, Howell's ruling will prohibit further wolf hunting and trapping in the three states, each of which has held at least one hunting season since the protections were removed. In fact, Minnesota and Wisconsin legalized wolf hunting for the first time in more than 40 years. In 2014, Wisconsin's wolf hunt saw 154 wolves killed, 80 percent of which were caught in leghold traps. Similarly, Minnesota saw 272 gray wolves killed during its 2014 season, and 84 percent were killed with legtraps.
More from Wide Open Spaces:
"It's been clear for years that wolves in the Great Lakes region still need the protection of the Endangered Species Act," Collette L. Giese, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, told CBS. "We're glad to see the court recognize that and are happy to know these wolf populations will now be safer and better able to survive and thrive in the long run."
At one time, gray wolves could be found in abundance throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere, but that population took a nosedive mainly because of human encroachment upon its habitat. When the gray wolf was added to the endangered species list in 1974, its Minnesota population was just 750. Now the International Wolf Center lists the gray wolf population as "increasing/stable" with a population of about 3,000 wolves, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The state set a target of 400 wolves killed; "A conservative approach that does not pose a threat to the conservation of the population."
Although it may seem like the Minnesota DNR had wolf conservation under control, Minnesota Humane Society Director Howard Goldman said the population hasn't reached the numbers necessary for stability.
"We were given an estimate of 3,000 wolves in our state," he said.
We are going to have a harvest of 400. There will be another 300 wolves that will be killed under the depredation programs, and we are estimating another 300 wolves will be killed illegally, so that's a total of 1,000 wolves already. That's a third of the wolf population, and many biologists say that the tipping point of when the population begins to decline is 30 percent, so we are right there.
Still, some conservationists persist that the wolf population has met the standards for recovery for nearly a decade, and the density of wolves in the Great Lakes area may soon reach its breaking point. Although wolves' diet generally consists of beaver, moose and deer, if their habitat is intruded upon by civilization or agriculture, they might prey on domestic animals. Likewise, human-wolf conflicts may rise.
"We have a stake in making sure that wolves remain on the landscape here," Minnesota DNR Communications Director Chris Niskanen said. "It is a high priority for us."
Others don't believe there is any imminent danger, however. Goldman said all the talk of preserving the wolf population and protecting all involved is nothing more than excuses used to satisfy hunters.
"They are having the hunt for trophies," Goldman said. "We are saying, 'Stay back. What's the rush? They were just delisted. Study this population.' We have to err on the side of caution. This is a population that was driven virtually to extinction."