WESTFIELD, NJ — Trained bow hunters participating in a county program are anticipated to fire arrows from raised tree stands in Brightwood Park and the Conservation Center next month in an effort to reduce the town’s burgeoning deer population.

The Town Council on Tuesday approved deer hunts in the 44-acre Brightwood Park and the 21-acre Conservation Center but removed from the hunt a municipal property of just under 8 acres bordered by Delaware Street, Maryland Avenue and Grandview Avenue after residents two weeks ago voiced safety concerns due to that location’s close proximity to homes. The town’s administrator said the county hunters were seeking more details on the smaller area.

“They want to spend more time getting some more information and talking to more residents there,” said Town Administrator Jim Gildea. “The two areas on the resolution are a much larger area.”

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Council members approved the revised hunt plan by a vote of 6-2. Council members JoAnn Neylan and Doug Stokes cast the dissenting votes. Councilman Mark LoGrippo was not in attendance due to a family emergency.

The 33-day hunt will take place Monday – Friday, Jan. 1 through Feb. 14, according to the county. The municipality will notify residents and the county is to post signs on the properties during the hunt, Gildea said. Hunters will set out bait, then fire from two to three tree stands in Brightwood Park and one tree stand at the Conservation Center, he said.

“This is not an easy decision, but one that I believe will take some important steps, at no cost to the town, toward addressing an increasing safety problem with the rapidly multiplying deer population,” said Mayor Shelley Brindle.

Several residents from neighboring Scotch Plains, however, objected to the hunt at the Conservation Center, which abuts their properties.

Karen Langer, who lives on Jacobs Lane in Scotch Plains, said her property is separated from the Conservation Center by an embankment of 50 to 100 feet and expressed concern that injured deer being hunted might run onto her property.

“The only fences that are there are the residents’ fences, if you have them, and not all have them,” Langer said.

Langer was not alone in her concern.

“My children play in this backyard,” said Tina Fairweather, another resident of Jacobs Lane. “You’re putting people at risk. You’re putting people in harm’s way by holding this hunt in people’s backyards.”

In an FAQ posted to the town website, municipal officials argued the hunt is necessary because of a rise in vehicular crashes the creatures have caused, the destruction of vegetation and an increase in Lyme disease, something attributed to ticks that deer spread.

“Deer roaming around have gotten stuck in storm drains, batting cages in town parks and fences, which can cause injuries to the deer and require town resources to address,” the town’s statement says.

Evan Topilow, a resident of Orenda Circle in Westfield, had come to the council to discuss an unrelated matter but offered his support for the hunt.

“When I left my house tonight there were 13 deer in my front yard, I am not kidding, so I am encouraging the deer hunt,” Topilow said.

Neylan said she did not approve of the process by which the council arrived at its decision and then modified the plan.

“I’m more unsettled now that changes were made by merely asking some questions when up until two weeks ago, everyone on the council was excited to push this through,” Neylan said.

Councilman David Contract said the council enlisted the county program out of resident concern and pointed to a surfeit of car crashes involving deer in the past two years.

“We have a problem in this town: 100 cars have hit deer. That’s one a week,” he said, citing an estimate of deer hit since January 2018. “If we had accidents like that at any one intersection, you would be yelling and screaming at us.”

Stokes cited concern about the possibility of the hunt putting more deer in the way of cars.

“Deer may run across those roads just because they’re being baited,” he said.

Councilman Frank Arena, who recalled a deer slamming into the side of his two-door Acura sedan when he was driving in Morris County years ago, favored the hunt.

“There was blood and saliva on the window from that deer crashing into my car,” Arena said. “I brought it to the body shop, and they said 'you are lucky to be alive.'”

Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh

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