A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that the state's black bear hunt can proceed, rejecting a challenge by animal rights activists.
Animal protection groups had sought to stop it, suing the state last year and challenging New Jersey's bear management policy that allows an annual six-day hunt.
The state maintains the hunt is needed to manage the black bear population.
Activists did not succeed in stopping last year's hunt, which killed 592 black bears in the state's first hunt in five years, but the lawsuit continued.
The court ruled Thursday that bear advocates "failed" in their argument to challenge the state's bear policy.
The court rejected the activists' claim that the population management policy was developed arbitrarily. The three-judge panel said repeatedly in the ruling that the court defers to the agency that developed the document.
"While there may be disagreements as to available data and its interpretation, under our standard of review we defer to agency findings that are based on sufficient evidence in the record," the judges wrote.
Activists argued the policy was based on skewed data and should be invalidated.
For example, they said the number of bear complaints reported by the state rose in the years from 2007 to 2009, but that's only because data was collected from 32 police departments in 2009 but just 17 departments two years earlier.
The activists said Thursday they were disappointed and would appeal the decision.
"The hunt is a trophy hunt, plain and simple," the bear groups said in a statement.
A similar legal challenge succeeded in 2007, and no hunt was held. An appeals panel found flaws with the management policy and ruled that the 2005 hunt should not have taken place.
The hunt typically takes place in December.