Environmental groups told a judge Monday that the wolf population in Montana and in Yellowstone National Park would be irreparably harmed if he lifts a temporary restraining order that restricted wolf hunting and trapping following concerns that too many of the animals could be killed this winter.

The court hearing in Helena comes as Montana and other Republican-led states have moved in recent years to make it easier to kill the predators.

Montana’s loosened wolf-hunting rules drew sharp criticism after 23 wolves from Yellowstone National Park were killed last winter, including 19 by hunters and trappers in Montana. Environmentalists in October sued the state over its regulations, which authorize the killing of 456 wolves statewide this winter, including a new quota of just six wolves north of Yellowstone.Officials from WildEarth Guardians and the Coyote Project, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told District Court Judge Chris Abbott that the state changed the way it estimates its wolf population without taking public comment on the method.

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