Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that 89 deer and 56 unborn deer were removed from Essex County South Mountain Reservation and Essex County Hilltop Reservation during the 2017 Essex County Deer Management Program. The program, which was held on six days between January 17 and February 14, is geared toward revitalizing the forest ecology by reducing the number of deer. This was the 10th year the program was held.
“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,” 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.
In South Mountain Reservation, the program was held on the afternoons of Thursday, January 19 and Thursday, January 26. There were 48 deer and 34 unborn deer culled from South Mountain in those two days. In Hilltop Reservation, the program was held on Tuesday, January 31; Thursday, February 2; Tuesday, February 7 and Tuesday, February 14. There were 41 deer and 22 unborn deer culled from Hilltop in those four days.
For the first time, make up days were scheduled in case the program was postponed due to inclement weather. The program was cancelled on Tuesdays, January 17 and 24 in South Mountain and on Thursday, February 9 in Hilltop.
South Mountain Reservation is located in Maplewood, Millburn and West Orange, and Hilltop Reservation is in Cedar Grove, North Caldwell and Verona. The program was not held in Eagle Rock Reservation.
With this year’s totals, there have been 2,158 deer (1,343 deer and 815 unborn deer) removed utilizing the volunteer services of experienced and qualified marksmen. 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 were closed to the public on the days the program was 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 remained open. The Essex County Sheriff’s Office coordinated safety patrols with local police departments.
All deer removed from the reservations were inspected and information about its age, reproductive status, gender and weight, as well as the number of shots fired was collected. They were transported by the County to a NJ Department of Health approved butcher for processing. Venison was donated to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside, which distributed the meat to the needy and homeless. In 2017, 1,938 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 four (4) half-day shifts of volunteer service will receive 40 pounds of venison.
Essex County 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 presented 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.