WEST ORANGE, NJ — The 13th annual Essex County Deer Management Program, which aims to revitalize the forest ecology by reducing the number of deer in the area, will continue on Tuesday at South Mountain Reservation in West Orange, Maplewood and Millburn.
The program, which also takes place at the Hilltop Reservation located in Cedar Grove, North Caldwell and Verona, will continue through March and will be held at South Mountain on Jan. 28, Feb. 4, Feb. 11 and Feb. 18 with makeup days on Feb. 25 and March 3 in the event that a scheduled date is canceled. The program will not be held in Eagle Rock Reservation.
According to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., controlling the population by removing deer from these areas has “proven to be very successful in helping to preserve the forest habitat and maintain [Essex County’s] reservations as viable resources for recreation and open space.”
“Each year, we have updated our program to address current conditions, adjusting the number and schedule of days and transitioning into a ‘maintenance mode’ to keep the population at a manageable level,” he said. “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.”
Since 2008, a total of 2,670 deer—including 1,682 deer and 988 unborn deer—have been removed from South Mountain and Hilltop Reservations utilizing the services of experienced and qualified marksmen who volunteer their time.
According to the county, these volunteers are all licensed by the State of New Jersey, have “demonstrated their marksmanship ability” and have completed an orientation program with the Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs and the Essex County Sheriff’s Office.
When in the reservations, the agents station themselves in trees at least 20 feet above the ground and only take shots at a downward angle.
To maximize safety, South Mountain Reservation, Hilltop Reservation, Cedar Grove Park and all parking areas and walking paths inside the reservations will be closed to the public on the days the program is held in that specific reservation. The Essex County Sheriff’s Office will coordinate safety patrols with local police departments.
Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, Essex County Codey Arena, the Essex County Park-N-Ride facility and McLoone’s Boathouse Restaurant in the Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex in West Orange and all county roads through the reservations will remain open.
According to the county, all deer removed from the reservations are inspected, and information is collected about the deer’s age, reproductive status, gender and weight as well as the number of shots fired.
Essex County transports the deer to a butcher approved by the New Jersey Department of Health for processing, and venison is donated to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside.
Last year, 5,216 pounds of venison were donated to the food bank, which distributes the meat to the needy and homeless. Since 2008, a total of 47,075 pounds of venison have been donated to the FoodBank, which equates to more than 168,000 meals.
Volunteer marksmen who completed at least seven half-day shifts of service each receive 40 pounds of venison as well.
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.
Nearly 50 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. According to the county, 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.
Thanks to grants presented to South Mountain Conservancy and the Eagle Rock Conservancy from the NJ Green Acres program as well as grants from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, the fences will remain in place for about 25 years.
According to a press release issued by the county, replanting native plant species “is necessary to restore the forest understory that was being destroyed by the over-browsing 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 release stated.
The county also shared that 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 New Jersey 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.
Postcards have been mailed to residents of West Orange, Maplewood, Millburn, North Caldwell, Short Hills, Verona and Cedar Grove who reside in districts that are close to the reservations in order to notify them about this program.
More information can be found on the Essex County website.