Essex County will kick off its annual deer management program in South Mountain and Hilltop Reservations this month. In its eleventh year, the program's goal is to revitalize the forest ecology by reducing the number of deer.
“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. 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,” County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo 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,” he added.
The culling will take place in South Mountain Reservation on Tuesdays Jan. 16, Jan. 23 and Jan. 30 and Thursdays Jan. 18 and Jan. 25 (with a make-up day on Feb. 1, if any previous dates are canceled); and in Hilltop Reservation on Tuesdays, Feb. 6, Feb. 13 and Feb. 20 and Thursdays, Feb. 8, Feb. 15 and Feb. 22 (with make-up days on Feb. 27 and March 1 if any previous dates are canceled).
The reservations will be closed to the public on those days to maximize safety. South Mountain Reservation is located in Maplewood, Millburn and West Orange, and Hilltop Reservation is in Cedar Grove, North Caldwell and Verona. The program will not be held in Eagle Rock Reservation.
Since 2008, a total of 2,158 deer (1,343 deer and 815 unborn deer) have been removed utilizing the services of experienced and qualified marksmen who volunteer their time. They are licensed by the State of New Jersey and have demonstrated their marksmanship ability and 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 and all parking areas and walking paths inside the two reservations will be closed to the public on the days the program is held in that specific reservation. 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. The Essex County Sheriff’s Office will coordinate safety patrols with local police departments.
All deer removed from the reservations are inspected and information about its age, reproductive status, gender and weight, as well as the number of shots fired is collected. They are transported by the County to a NJ 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 2017, 1,968 pounds of venison were donated to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, which provided about 7,900 meals. Since 2008, a total of 38,420 pounds of venison have been donated to the FoodBank, which equates to about 153,700 meals. Volunteer marksmen who complete at least seven (7) half-day shifts of volunteer service will receive 40 pounds of venison.
Essex County has used a variety of means to notify the public about the Deer Management Program and the closure of the reservations to the public while the program is taking place. A press release was sent to local media; advertisements were placed in The Star-Ledger and several local weekly newspapers; about 20,000 postcards were mailed to residents of Cedar Grove, Maplewood, Millburn, North Caldwell, Short Hills, Verona and West Orange who reside in districts that are close to the reservations; information was posted on the Essex County website (www.essexcountynj.org) and distributed to an e-mail database maintained by the County Executive’s Office; and electronic message boards have been placed along roadways around the reservations to notify motorists. In addition, Municipal Liaisons appointed by the County Executive will present information to the municipal governments at upcoming public meetings.
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 2016, 262 deer carcasses were removed from County roads.