HELENA, Mont. – A federal judge Thursday reinstated protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho, saying the government made a political decision in removing the protections from just two of the states where Northern Rocky Mountain wolves roam.

The decision puts a halt to wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho planned for this fall. Montana wildlife regulators last month set the wolf-hunt quota at 186, more than doubling last year’s number, with the aim of reducing the state’s wolf population.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said in his ruling that the entire region’s wolf population either must be listed as an endangered species or removed from the list, but the protections for the same population can’t be different for each state.

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service turned over wolf management to Montana and Idaho wildlife officials but left federal endangered species protections in place for wolves in Wyoming. There, legislators have approved a plan classifying wolves in most areas of the state outside the vicinity of Yellowstone National Park as predators that could be shot on sight.

Molloy ruled that the Endangered Species Act does not allow listing only part of a species as endangered.