December 3, 2012 (Newark, NJ) – District 5 Freeholder Brendan W. Gill of Montclair, Chairman of the Freeholder Board’s Deer Population Control Committee, convened a meeting of his committee on Thursday, November 29, 2012, at the Hall of Records.
Director Salvante gave an overview of pertinent statistics, including the fact that a total of 2,654 deer have been removed from county property since 2008 (818 culled, 545 unborn fetuses, 1,291 killed in vehicle accidents on county roads). He also pointed out that the success of the County’s deer management program (whether due to culling or to the effectiveness of roadside reflectors) was manifested in the reduction in the number of deer killed on county roads: 182 (2012), 233 (2011), 229 (2010), 283 (2009), 363 (2008) and 303 (2007).
Bernier discussed the various elements of the deer management program and emphasized that the hunting aspect “…is not in any way intended to provide recreational sport.” He added, “The hunt is intended strictly for the purpose of deer management, and has three goals: to preserve bio-diversity in the county’s woodland and fields (especially its parks) by allowing for forest re-generation to reverse the damage done by the over-browsing of deer; to provide aesthetic and financial relief to homeowners whose landscaping has been damaged by deer; and to reduce the threat to public safety caused by deer-related motor vehicle accidents.” He also discussed the extensive efforts to notify the public of hunts, the stringent rules in-force to make the hunt as safe as possible, as well as the effort to use skilled and experienced marksmen and to include as many Essex County resident marksmen as possible.
Bernier also responded to questions from Freeholder Gill, other freeholders and members of the public about alternative population control means besides hunting. Regarding “trap-and-transfer”, he pointed out that it was attempted years ago in Essex County and failed; that is very difficult to accomplish, logistically; and that it often results in the death of deer from trauma and injury anyway. He also discussed the current impediments to the use of fertility control/immunocontraceptive drugs such as PZP and GonaCon: legality – the State requires that deer first must be captured, the drug must be administered by veterinarians, and permission must be granted in writing from all property owners within 2,000 feet of the designated darting area if the deer are to tranquilized prior to inoculation; cost - recent analyses indicate the cost to be $1,000 per deer, and likely higher here in Essex County, due mostly to the mandated participation of veterinarians; and application, the most problematic of all - 90% of the female deer must be immunized, they must be captured, tagged and kept track of to know when they must be re-treated, and they must be treated at least every year, if not every year. He went on to add that even if all of these impediments were to be worked out, the use of these drugs will only “…allow you to maintain a population at or close to what it currently is; what it will not do is reduce the population.” “So, if you have too many deer already, fertility control agents are not going to bring that population down for at least ten years.”
Freeholder Gill emphasized the importance of moving forward with forest regeneration efforts and asked, “When are we going to reach the point where the number of deer is low enough that we won’t need to hunt anymore?” Bernier answered by saying that forest ecologists generally say a population of 20 deer per square mile will permit a healthy forest to survive, “…but, your forests are far from healthy and current research suggests you probably need to get the density down to about 5 per square mile in order for forest regeneration to really have the opportunity to succeed.” At the current rate, he indicated that the hunt in South Mountain Reservation would probably have to continue for another 2 or 3 years, that it would take longer at the Hilltop Reservation, and that at Eagle Rock, perhaps a hunt every other year for a while would suffice.