By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - A U.S. judge temporarily restored federal protections to wolves in Wyoming on Tuesday in a victory for conservationists that is sure to draw criticism from ranchers and hunters who blame wolves for preying on livestock and big-game animals.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in 2012 that wolves had successfully come back from the brink of extinction in Wyoming, and that the population of about 300 animals could be managed by the state, which established hunting seasons.
But conservation groups filed suit alleging federal wildlife managers violated provisions of the Endangered Species Act by approving a wolf management plan in Wyoming that allowed the animals to be shot on sight in most of the state and failed to ensure their survival.
In Tuesday's ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service to hand Wyoming authority based on non-binding promises by the state to maintain a certain number of wolves was "arbitrary and capricious" and needed revising.
But the judge also supported the finding by federal wildlife managers that wolves were no longer threatened with extinction in Wyoming.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)