The Animal Protection League of New Jersey and the Bear Education and Resource Group had asked the court to issue a stay that would have stopped the six-day hunt, the state's first in five years, before it started.
But Supreme Court Justice Edwin Stern turned down that request in an order issued Saturday afternoon. It provided no explanation for the decision and came a day after an appeals court refused to block the hunt, saying the groups' claims lacked merit.
"Of course we are disappointed in (Stern's ruling), but this is the same thing that happened in 2005," bear-activist lawyer Doris Lin said Saturday, referring to a prior lawsuit that eventually succeeded in challenging the state's bear management policy.
In a 2007 ruling in that case, an appellate panel determined that the state's 2005 bear hunt had been illegal and no hunt was held in 2007. The activists' court petition to stop the 2005 hunt had been denied at the appellate level and by the Supreme Court.
Lin said the current lawsuit is moving forward on its merits.
Environmental regulators insist the hunt is needed to control a growing bear population now estimated at 3,400.
A hunt in seven northwestern counties is expected to reduce the number by 300 to 700 bears. It is part of the state Department of Environmental Protection's bear management policy, which the animal activists claimed was improperly developed.
The appellate panel, though, had found the hunt to be "a safe, legal and responsible use of wildlife resources, as well as a legitimate and effective means to control overabundant game species in a cost-effective manner."
Hunting is used to manage and control the black bear population in at least 29 other states, including Pennsylvania and New York, the ruling noted.
DEP officials had expressed confidence their position would be upheld.