The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a rule Wednesday that formally returns gray wolves in the upper Great Lakes region to the endangered species list.
The rule fulfills a deal made with environmental groups in July, when the agency promised to reinstate the wolves' protected status while considering its next move.
Earlier this year, the government dropped about 4,000 wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin from the list, turning over management of the predators to state wildlife regulators.
Activist groups sued, saying state plans were inadequate and would open the door to future hunting and trapping.
According to Georgia Parham with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the court determined officials hadn't provided an appropriate period for public comment before removing the federal protection.
But as a practical matter, she says wolves in the Upper Midwest are not endangered.
"The service does believe that, biologically, wolves have recovered," said Parham. "They've met recovery criteria and the populations are doing well."
The current status takes authority for wolf management away from the three states. Federal officials will consider additional information before again proposing to de-list wolves.