Essex County will seek to cull up to 175 deer from its parklands during its third annual deer hunt, which begins on Tuesday, January 19. The six-week-long hunt at the South Mountain, Eagle Rock and Hilltop reservations will result in park and road closures, including a stretch of Fairview Avenue in Verona. But County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. also used a press conference on Monday to talk about the woodlands restoration that has been undertaken in South Mountain Reservation since the first deer hunt.
In Verona, the focus of the hunt in is the Hilltop reservation, where volunteer marksmen selected by the county will be looking to shoot about 50 deer, beginning on Tuesday, February 9. But because the Hilltop property spans both the actual hilltop to the west of Fairview Avenue and the old Essex County Hospital grounds to the east, DiVincenzo said the county will shut Fairview from Durrell Street in Verona to Myrtle Avenue in Cedar Grove on each day of the hunt, which will be February 11, 16, 18, 23 and 25. We will put all those closings on the MyVeronaNJ calendar and post a note to the home page on hunt days, but plan on using Grove Avenue for all your north-south travel during the hunt.
While a small clutch of protesters held up banners outside, DiVincenzo again enumerated the reasons for the hunt, like the car-deer collisions that have left 284 carcasses on county roads in the past year, including 14 on Fairview alone. But he and Essex County Horticulturalist Kathleen Salisbury also talked about the replanting of South Mountain with native species that had been devastated by the large deer population.
The county has set up deer-proof fences around 42 areas in South Mountain, totaling about 1 million square feet, and introduced more than 100,000 native plants, at a cost of $697,300. Salisbury said the goal is for these areas, which total just 2% of South Mountain’s parkland, to serve as a seed bank, producing plants that could be used elsewhere in South Mountain, as well as in the Eagle Rock Reservation. The effort is key to restoring the parks’ ecosystems and stopping both soil erosion and the spread of invasive plants, which have caused a drop in other animal populations in the park.
DiVincenzo said there were no plans yet for a re-planting of the Hilltop property, but indicated that there would be in the future.