- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A court on Tuesday formally lifted endangered species protection for wolves in Wyoming and put the state back in charge of their management, clearing the way for the animals to once again be hunted south and east of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

The order of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia follows a March ruling by a three-judge panel of the court that federal officials adequately responded to concerns about Wyoming’s wolf-management plan. Environmental groups declined to appeal.

Gov. Matt Mead praised the order, saying Wyoming officials recognize the need to maintain a healthy wolf population.

“I am delighted that the circuit court recognized Wyoming’s commitment to manage a recovered wolf population,” Mead said in a release. “Our wolf management plan is a result of years of hard work by people across Wyoming.”

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has been waiting to see if the recent ruling would be appealed before discussing a return to wolf hunting in the state.

Wyoming managed wolves from 2012 to 2014 until a judge reinstated federal protections amid concern that Wyoming’s were inadequate.

The 2014 ruling effectively put Wyoming’s 400 or so wolves back on the endangered list while wolves remained off the list in Montana and Idaho. The three-state region is home to about 5,500 wolves descended from wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone in the 1990s.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 2011 that gray wolves were no longer a threatened species in Wyoming.

Wyoming allowed regulated hunting just east and south of Yellowstone and Grand Teton during the fall, but concern focused on how wolves could be shot on sight in most of the state.

Environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council criticized last month’s appeals court ruling as a step backward for wolf management. The council didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

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Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver

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