UNION COUNTY, NJ -- The Union County Department of Parks and Recreation has released details of its annual Deer Management Program, which will begin on Monday, Jan. 8, in six County parks and one municipal park. The program will operate in the Watchung Reservation, the Summit portion of Passaic River Park, Ash Brook Reservation, Lenape Park, Nomahegan Park, Oak Ridge Park, and the Hawk Rise Sanctuary.

Browsing for food by large numbers of deer has caused a loss of forest understory in park areas throughout the northeastern U.S. Deer overpopulation threatens the survival of the plant and animal communities that are important to the ecology of these parks.

Forest ecologists recommend a density of 20 per sq. mile in a healthy hardwood forest and as low as 5 per sq. mile in a forest that has been heavily damaged by browsing. Counts conducted by the County in April 2017 suggested 2017-18 densities of about 58 deer per sq. mile in the Watchung Reservation, 84 per sq. mile in and around Ash Brook Reservation and Oak Ridge Park, 87 deer per sq. mile in the Hawk Rise Sanctuary in Linden, and 150 per sq. mile in and around Lenape and Nomahegan Parks. 

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Since 1995, marksmen in Union County’s state-regulated deer management program have reduced the population of white-tailed deer in the Watchung Reservation substantially. In 2006, hunting was initiated in Ash Brook Reservation. Five years ago, hunters harvested deer from Lenape Park for the first time. Three years ago, the County began to conduct deer management in Nomahegan Park and in Rise Sanctuary. Oak Ridge Park was added to the list in 2016.

Locally, the Watchung Reservation spans over 2,000 acres in Springfield, Mountainside, Scotch Plains, Summit, Berkeley Heights, and Watchung. The Ash Brook Reservation encompasses 667 acres in Scotch Plains and Clark. Oak Ridge Park consists of 90 acres of land in Clark and Edison. Lenape Park covers 403 acres of land in Cranford, Kenilworth, Union, Springfield, and Westfield. 

TheDeer Management Program will operate on Mondays from Jan. 8 to Feb. 5. When there is a holiday on a Monday (MLK Day), the program moves to Wednesday. In the event of inclement weather, the hunting activity will be moved to Wednesday that week. Hunters will be in the parks from 5:30 a.m. until after dark, but shooting may occur only during daylight hours. 

Forty marksmen have been chosen by the County from among experienced, licensed hunters. Eighty-five percent of the hunters have previously participated in Union County’s program, and all are serving on a voluntary basis. The hunters will be wearing orange hats or vests and will hunt the deer from elevated positions, at least 20 feet up in the trees, over baited sites. 

The hunters may keep any deer carcasses that they harvest. Many of the deer will be processed at a State-approved butcher and the venison will be donated to the needy and homeless through the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.

The deer management program will be supervised by the Union County Police and the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. Anyone found hunting on any County park property outside the terms of this program will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

The public should note that these parks will not be closed during the deer management program. However, portions of some roadways inside the park may be closed for short periods if necessary. Park patrons are urged to stay on the marked hiking, walking and bridle trails. They also are urged to adhere to the County ordinance that requires that pets be restrained on a leash.

For further information, visit http://ucnj.org/parks-recreation/wildlife-management/deer  or call (908) 527-4900. Hunters interested in joining this program in a future year can get onto a mailing list for applications through the website.

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