Essex County will hold its tenth deer management program in county parks in January and February. The program, which is geared toward revitalizing the forest ecology by reducing the number of deer, begins on January 17 and runs through February 16.
The days in South Mountain Reservation are Tuesday, January 17 and Thursday, January 19, with make-up days on Tuesday, January 24 and Thursday, January 26. The days in Verona’s Hilltop Reservation are Tuesdays January 31 and February 7 and Thursdays February 2 and 9. Make-up days are Tuesday, February 14, and Thursday, February 16. The hunt, which is carried out by experienced and qualified marksmen who volunteer their time, will be held in the afternoon and the reservations, including all parking areas and walking paths, will be closed to the public while the hunt is active.
Since 2008, a total of 2,013 deer (1,254 deer and 759 unborn deer) have been removed from county parks. When in the reservations, the marksmen station themselves in trees at least 20 feet above the ground and only take shots at a downward angle.
“Controlling the population by removing deer from South Mountain and Hilltop has proven to be very successful in helping to preserve the forest habitat and maintain our reservations as viable resources for recreation and open space,” said Essex County Executive Joseph N. Divincenzo Jr. “Each year, we have updated our program to address current conditions, reducing the number of days and transitioning into a ‘maintenance mode’ to maintain the population at a manageable level. This is just one facet of our comprehensive Deer Management Program that also includes creating seed banks to accelerate the re-growth of the forests and installing reflectors and lights to enhance traffic safety by keeping deer from entering the roadway.”
All deer removed from the reservations are inspected and information about their age, reproductive status, gender and weight, as well as the number of shots fired is collected. They are transported by the County to a New Jersey Department of Health-approved butcher for processing. Venison is donated to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside, which distributes the meat to the needy and homeless. In 2016, 3,803 pounds of venison were donated to the FoodBank, which provided about 15,000 meals. Since 2008, a total of 36,452 pounds of venison have been donated to the FoodBank, which equates to about 145,000 meals. Volunteer marksmen who complete at least eight (8) half-day shifts of volunteer service will receive 40 pounds of venison.
In addition to culling the deer herd, an aggressive replanting program to accelerate the regrowth of the forests is being undertaken in South Mountain Reservation and Eagle Rock Reservation. Forty-seven enclosures (42 in South Mountain and five in Eagle Rock) have been installed where native vegetative species have been planted so their seeds can be reintroduced into the area. The eight-foot high fences are designed to prevent deer and other large animals from foraging on the planted areas, but allow smaller animals, such as rodents and birds, to enter and exit. The fences will remain in place for about 25 years. The planting project was funded with grants from the NJ Green Acres program received by the South Mountain Conservancy and the Eagle Rock Conservancy and grants from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund.
Replanting native plant species is necessary to restore the forest understory that was being destroyed by the overbrowsing of deer. The loss of this vegetation has prevented new trees from growing, created erosion problems, allowed invasive plant species to flourish and caused the number of native animal species that rely on the plants for food or protection to decline.
The third aspect of the Essex County Deer Management Program is enhancing safety on County roads by reducing the number of motor vehicle accidents involving deer. Through a pilot program with the NJ Department of Transportation, Essex County received grant money to install detection devices that reflect motor vehicle headlights and emit a high-pitched noise to scare deer away from the road when cars approach. The reflectors are installed along Cherry Lane, Brookside Drive, JFK Parkway and Parsonage Hill Road in Millburn, Livingston and West Orange. In 2015, 272 deer carcasses were removed from County roads.