A federal judge on Friday threw out an Obama administration decision to remove gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region from the endangered species list — a decision that will ban further wolf hunting and trapping in three states.

The order affects wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, where the combined population is estimated at around 3,700. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped federal protections from those wolves in 2012 and handed over management to the states.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in Washington, D.C., ruled Friday the removal was "arbitrary and capricious" and violated the federal Endangered Species Act.

Unless overturned, her decision will block the states from scheduling additional hunting and trapping seasons for the predators. All three have had at least one hunting season since protections were lifted, while Minnesota and Wisconsin also have allowed trapping. More than 1,500 Great Lakes wolves have been killed, said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, which filed a lawsuit that prompted Howell's ruling.

"We are pleased that the court has recognized that the basis for the delisting decision was flawed, and would stop wolf recovery in its tracks," Lovvorn said.

Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Gavin Shire said the agency was disappointed and would confer with the U.S. Department of Justice and the states about whether to appeal.

"The science clearly shows that wolves are recovered in the Great Lakes region, and we believe the Great Lakes states have clearly demonstrated their ability to effectively manage their wolf populations," Shire said. "This is a significant step backward."

Minnesota Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said agency attorneys will study the ruling before determining its effect on state wolf policy.

"On face value we're very surprised. We didn't even know it was coming to a conclusion here," Landwehr said. "It's an unusual turn of events."

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