A federal judge in the US state of Montana has issued a court order temporarily blocking the first trophy hunts of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area in 40 years.
Siding with native American groups and environmentalists who have been seeking to restore the animals' protected status, district court judge Dana Christensen issued the 14-day restraining order.
The ruling came just two days before Wyoming and Idaho were scheduled to open licensed grizzly hunts which would have allowed as many as 23 bears in the two states to be shot and killed for sport.
The stage for grizzly hunting in the region was set in June 2017 when the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that bears would cease to be listed as a threatened species in and around Yellowstone. That left grizzly management to the discretion of the states, and prompted lawsuits challenging the action.
The decision by the Trump administration on the de-listing, formally proposed in 2016 during the Obama era, was based on agency findings that the bears' numbers have rebounded enough in recent decades that federal protections are no longer necessary.
Grizzlies number fewer than 2000 bears, compared to an historic high of 100,000 before extermination campaigns brought their numbers to just several hundred by 1975, when they came under the Endangered Species Act.
The de-listing decision last year applied to about 700 Yellowstone-area grizzlies in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
Environmentalists argue that treating those bears separately from other grizzly populations in Montana and elsewhere was biologically unsound and illegal under the Endangered Species Act.
A final ruling will be issued in the coming weeks.