BILLINGS - A federal judge is asking if gray wolves should lose their experimental designation across much of the Northern Rockies - a move that could mean new restrictions on when the animals can be killed.
Friday's order from U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula came after environmentalists sued over a government rule that made it easier to kill wolves that prey on big game herds.
Wolves across most of the Northern Rockies were reintroduced in the 1990s as an "experimental, nonessential" population. That gave the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service more flexibility in managing the species.
But Molloy said that special status may no longer be deserved because of interbreeding with Canadian wolves.
The judge set a Feb. 22 deadline for parties in the environmentalists' lawsuit to respond.