Wildlife advocates went to federal court Tuesday to challenge a move by Congress that stripped endangered species status from more than 1,300 gray wolves across five states in the Northern Rockies.

The two-hour hearing before U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula came as Idaho and Montana prepare for fall hunts in which hundreds of wolves could be killed. He pledged to quickly issue his order deciding the case.

Molloy has twice blocked prior attempts to lift protections for the predators. This time around, he is considering whether Congress violated the separation of powers under the U.S. Constitution with legislation crafted to circumvent his earlier rulings.

Government biologists say wolves reached sustainable population levels a decade ago and would likely continue to thrive in the Northern Rockies under state management.

Associated Press