CHEYENNE -- A federal judge ruled Thursday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wasn't justified in rejecting Wyoming's wolf management plan.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson didn't require the FWS to accept Wyoming's plan. However, he stated that the FWS' insistence that Wyoming list wolves as a trophy games species throughout the entire state was "arbitrary and capricious" and should be set aside.

The state of Wyoming sued the FWS after the federal agency refused to accept the state's plan, which would allow unregulated killing of the animals over all but the northwest part of the state. Currently, all of Wyoming's wolves are listed as a federally endangered species, meaning it's unlawful to kill wolves anywhere in the state.

Johnson ruled that FWS should revisit whether Wyoming's proposed trophy game management area in the state's northwest corner is sufficient to ensure wolf populations are maintained and protected, or whether the state's proposed boundaries should be expanded.

Since being reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, wolf populations in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana have grown to about 1,700. Wyoming had about 320 wolves at the end of 2009, with 224 of those outside Yellowstone National Park.

FWS spokesman Leith Edgar said the agency is reviewing the ruling. Edgar said "it's too soon to tell" whether they will appeal the case.

"At this point, the lawyers are looking at it, and they'll make a decision," he said.

Wyoming Attorney General Bruce Salzburg said while he was happy with the decision, he expected the FWS to appeal the case.

"With the history of wolf litigation in Wyoming, it's silly to think that this is the end of it," he said.

The ruling comes in the wake of an August federal court ruling in Montana that overturned wolf management plans in Montana and Idaho on the grounds that protections for the same population can't vary by state.

Salzburg said he didn't see any conflict between the Montana ruling and the Wyoming ruling.

"The two decisions can co-exist," he said.

Read more about this story in Friday's Star-Tribune.

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