By BEN NEARY
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has merged two lawsuits filed by separate coalitions of groups challenging the federal government's recent transfer of wolf management authority to the state of Wyoming.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson consolidated the lawsuits Friday. The lead group in one lawsuit is the Defenders of Wildlife, while the lead in the other is the Humane Society of the United States.
A third similar lawsuit filed by another coalition is pending in federal court in Denver.
All the groups generally argue Wyoming's management plan, which allows wolves to be shot on sight in most of the state, is insufficient to protect the animals.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, however, said last week in an interview with The Associated Press that he regards the state's takeover of wolf management from the federal government in October as one of the state's major accomplishments of the year. He credited U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar with working with the state to turn over wolf management.
"I understand that there's a certain segment of the population that doesn't like the plan, and there are those who do like the plan," Mead said. "But just being able to work on a difficult issue and, in my mind, move forward is a very positive thing, because that's not always easily done with the federal government."
Wyoming's wolf-management plan allows sport hunting for wolves outside Yellowstone and gives wolves no protection in the rest of the state.
As of Friday, trophy hunters had killed roughly 39 wolves out of a maximum set limit of 52 in a zone around Yellowstone. The state says roughly another 20 wolves have been killed elsewhere where wolves are unprotected.
Wyoming's plan pledges to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs of wolves and at least 100 animals outside of Yellowstone and the Wind River Indian Reservation, in the central part of the state.
Mead said he believes Wyoming's wolf hunt went well this fall.
"It was a conservative number in terms of the wolves in the trophy game area," Mead said. "It looks like at the end of the season here in a few days, we probably won't even meet that quota. So there hasn't been this sort of doomsday, 'we're going to kill all the wolves,' in fact it appears to me we probably won't even meet the quota we set, which was very conservative."
The federal government reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s. Wildlife managers say the state had about 300 wolves outside of Yellowstone, where no hunting is allowed, when state management began.
WildEarth Guardians, one of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit pending in Denver, last week filed a petition with federal officials calling for creating a no-shooting zone around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks to reduce the killing of wolves.
Lawyers for both the federal government and the state have asked the judge to transfer the lawsuits from Washington, D.C., to the federal courts in Wyoming, a move the groups who filed lawsuits are resisting. Attempts to reach lawyers for the groups were unsuccessful Monday.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.