Norwegian hunters are accused of imperilling the survival of the country's tiny lynx population.
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent
WWF, the global environment network, says this year's quota will allow the killing of about a quarter of Norway's lynx.
It says the population has already fallen by almost half in the last six years.
WWF wants Norway to develop a national plan as a step to try to increase the numbers of lynx.
It says there were about 600 animals in Norway in 1996, but that now there are only 300 to 350.
Yet the 2003 quota has been set at 85 lynx, and excludes neither mothers nor cubs.
The hunting season opened on 1 February and lasts until 30 April. Some 35 lynx have already been shot.
WWF says the lynx "face extinction" because of what it calls "two major flaws in Norway's conservation management strategy".
It says: "First, Norway lacks any national goals regarding the lynx population. In some areas in the western and southern parts of Norway authorities have decided there should be no lynx at all, and there are only a few individuals left.
"Second, hunting quotas are not determined nationally, but at the county level, and the main basis for determining a quota is uncertain estimations of local lynx populations and how many sheep have been lost to lynx, which occasionally prey on them.
WWF fears lynx risk extinction
"In Norway every county that has lynx decides a quota for the season, based on the size of the population in the county. When WWF-Norway called all of the counties in advance of the hunting season, very few of them had any precise idea of the number of lynx they had."
Callum Rankine, international species officer for WWF, said: "Norway must immediately ban the hunting of lynx, especially the killing of females with cubs.
"We need to do all we can to stop the over hunting of this species. The Norwegian Government's wolf cull in 2001 halved the country's population; we do not want to see this happening to the lynx."
Margin of safety
WWF says the national lynx management plan it wants Norway to develop should aim at a population increase to at least 600 animals over four or five years.
In the long term, it wants to see 1,000 lynx in Norway, a level which it says would ensure the 200 reproductive females necessary for the population to survive.
IUCN, the World Conservation Union, says the world's most endangered wild cat species, the Iberian lynx, is fighting a desperate struggle for survival.
There are fewer than 300 of the animals left in Spain and Portugal, in just two groups.
A government cull of wolves in 2001 near the south eastern town of Koppang sparked an outcry in Norway and abroad.
The environment ministry in Oslo told BBC News Online: "The stock of lynx in Norway must be carefully looked after by the administration, but the number being shot this year is defensible."
All Lynx images courtesy of WWFNorway/Tom Schandy