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Deer Culling Program Faces 'Little Resistance,' Essex County Exec Says

Program to maintain deer population in multiple Essex County reservations in its seventh year.

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, along with deer management program manager Dan Bernier, speaks about the deer program at a press conference at South Mountain Recreation Complex. Photos by Melinda Stevens
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, along with deer management program manager Dan Bernier, speaks about the deer program at a press conference at South Mountain Recreation Complex. Photos by Melinda Stevens

The Essex County Deer Management Program is set to begin Tuesday in South Mountain Reservation and Feb. 4 in the Hilltop Reservation with little opposition this year, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. announced at a press conference Thursday at the South Mountain Recreation Complex in West Orange.

The Deer Management Program is in its seventh year in Essex County and has been working every year to reduce the deer population in the reservations to help maintain healthy forests.

DiVincenzo stated at the press conference that the program has had opposition in the past, but has seen “little resistance” this year.

“I respect both sides, but I do believe we are doing the right thing,” DiVincenzo said in terms of those opposed to the program. “We do not want to eliminate the deer, we just want to maintain them.”

DiVincenzo believes the program has been successful, as over 900 deer have been removed from the reservations since the program was implemented in 2008.

“We have been very successful in reducing the deer population in our reservations to a manageable level, which has enabled us to transition our program from aggressively removing deer and scaling it back to where our goal is to maintain the population,” DiVincenzo said in a press release about the deer program. “Since we started in 2008, we have removed 922 deer from our reservations. The overabundance of deer affects all of our communities.”

The program will take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays in afternoons only. The South Mountain Reservation will be closed on Jan. 21, 23, 28 and 30. The Hilltop Reservation will be closed on Feb. 4, 6, 11 and 13. 

Licensed hunters will be removing the deer during the program and have been selected through an application process, according to program manager Dan Bernier.

“The removal of the deer will be conducted by 15 licensed hunters, 13 of which have participated in the program in previous years,” Bernier said at Thursday’s press conference. “The hunters are performing the service for Essex County on a voluntary basis,” adding that the hunters do get a portion of the venison killed for their services.

All deer removed from the reservations will be transported to a check station where County officials will inspect the animals and collect information about its age, reproductive status, gender and weight, as well as the number of shots fired, according to the release. The deer will then be transported by the County to a NJ Department of Health approved butcher for processing. Venison will be donated to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside, which will distribute the meat to the needy and homeless.

In 2013, 2,291 pounds of venison was donated to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, which provided over 9,000 meals for needy families. Since the Essex County Deer Management Program started in 2008, over 28,000 pounds of venison have been donated, according to the release.

Bernier also stated that the hunters are going to be out in the reservations on the scheduled days if weather permits.

According to Bernier, there are approximately 23 deer per square mile in the South Mountain Reservation and 118 deer per square mile combined in the Hilltop Reservation and Eagle Rock Reservation.

“The goal of the program is to get at least nine deer from the South Mountain Reservation and 43 deer from the Hilltop Reservation, but we expect more in South Mountain,” Bernier said. “In a healthy forest, it is recommended that there are 20 deer per square mile. Both reservations are obviously in unhealthy states due to the deer population.”

There is no limit on the number of deer the hunters can kill, according to Bernier, and the hunters are instructed to kill injured deer first, then pursue does, fawns, antler-less bucks and then lastly, bucks with antlers.

“This is not a sport or recreational opportunity for the hunters,” Bernier said. “Any antlers on killed bucks will be removed and given back to Essex County for educational purposes.

All shots will be fired during daylight hours and if any resident hears shots fired after dusk, they are encouraged to contact the Essex County Sheriff’s Department right away, according to Bernier.

At Thursday’s press conference, DiVincenzo stated people’s safety is the number one priority of the program.

“We want a situation where we can have control of the deer, not eliminate the population as it is safety first, especially in this county,” DiVincenzo said at the conference.

Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura also attended the conference and stated the department has had “no incidents” since the program began in 2008.

“I am happy to report that throughout the entire program, we have had no incidents of any kind,” Fontoura said at the press conference.

Fontoura also stated that roadways will not be closed, with the possible exception of Fairview Avenue in Verona and North Caldwell, and “minimal overtime” will be required for police officers.

South Mountain Conservancy President Dennis Percher stated at the conference that the reservation supports the county’s ongoing commitment to reducing the deer population.

“This ongoing commitment in the reservation to lower the deer density is absolutely necessary,” Percher said at the conference. “We have to get the population down so we are not drowning and we can then recover. I believe the deer management program is a good and necessary program.”

Percher also stated he believed it was necessary to include the Eagle Rock Reservation in the program this year, but Bernier stated that through research, it was found that there is not enough deer in Eagle Rock Reservation to “warrant costs.”

Hilltop Conservancy Treasurer Theresa Trapp was also on hand at the conference to show support for the program.

“It is not about the deer being a nuisance, but more about balance,” Trapp said at the conference. “The deer numbers need to be kept down and other methods, such as surgical sterilization, are too much money. It is more of an ecological balance for us than anything else. We have seen some success and look forward to a number of more years of this program.”

Over 86,000 postcards were sent out, notifying Essex County residents of the program and reservation closures, according to DiVincenzo. Any and all information on the Deer management Program will be available on the county website at www.essexcountynj.org.

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