A federal court on Friday ordered a stop to gray wolf hunting in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, saying the animal still requires protection. The ruling overturns a 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision that opened up hunting and trapping of wolves for the first time in 40 years.

The court's ruling was cheered by the Humane Society of the United States, which was among a group of wildlife protection groups that sued the U.S.F.W.S. for its decision to remove the gray wolf from the list of animals deserving of protection under the Endangered Species Act.

"In the short time since federal protections have been removed, trophy hunters and trappers have killed more than 1,500 Great Lakes wolves under hostile state management programs that encourage dramatic reductions in wolf populations," said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at the Humane Society.

Minnesota hunters shot or trapped 272 wolves this year, more than the state's target quota of 250. Some 15,000 people had applied for 3,800 available licenses this year. Last year, 13,000 applied for 3,300 licenses.

A Minnesota DNR survey last winter estimated the wolf population at 2,423 — up about 200 or 10 percent from 2013. Officials say the population peaked at 3,020 in 2004 — 17 percent higher than it is now.

Photo: A gray wolf wades across a pond at the International Wolf Center, Oct. 6, 2011, in Ely, Minn. Photo by David Joles, Star Tribune.