WEST ORANGE, NJ — In an effort to revitalize the forest ecology in Essex County’s forest areas, the county’s Deer Management Program will begin on Jan. 15 and continue through March. This year, the program has been modified so that culling will occur on Tuesdays in South Mountain Reservation and Thursdays in Hilltop Reservation.

According to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., 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 the 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,” said DiVincenzo. “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.”

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The scheduled days at South Mountain Reservation, which is located in Maplewood, Millburn and West Orange, are Tuesdays, Jan. 15, 22 and 29 and Feb. 5, 19 and 26 (with a make-up day on Tuesday, March 5 if any previous dates are cancelled).

The days in Hilltop Reservation, located in Cedar Grove, North Caldwell and Verona, are Thursdays, Jan. 17, 24 and 31 and Feb. 7, 14 and 21 (with make-up days on Thursdays, February 28 or March 1st if any previous dates are cancelled).

The program will not be held in Eagle Rock Reservation.

Since 2008, a total of 2,370 deer (1,482 deer and 888 unborn deer) have been removed utilizing the services of experienced and qualified marksmen who volunteer their time, according to the county. Volunteer 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 to a New Jersey 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 2018, 3,439 pounds of venison were donated, providing about 13,700 meals.

Since 2008, a total of 41,859 pounds of venison have been donated to the FoodBank, which equates to about 167,400 meals. Volunteer marksmen who complete at least seven half-day shifts of volunteer service will receive 40 pounds of venison. 

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.

According to 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 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 currently are installed along Cherry Lane, Brookside Drive, JFK Parkway and Parsonage Hill Road in Millburn, Livingston and West Orange.