Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. today announced plans for a “scaled back” program to get rid of deer from the South Mountain and Hilltop Reservations. Here’s his statement:
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that the Essex County Deer Management Program will continue for a sixth consecutive year, but the operation will be scaled back from previous campaigns with fewer days and with deer being removed from only two reservations.
The program will be conducted in South Mountain Reservation and Hilltop Reservation on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Tuesday, January 22nd to Thursday, February 7th. To maximize safety, the two reservations will be closed to the public on the days the Deer Management Program is being conducted. Reducing the number of deer is part of an ongoing initiative by the administration to preserve and restore the forest ecology in Essex County’s open spaces.
“During the first five years of our Deer Management Program, we have been very successful in reducing the deer population in our reservations to a manageable level. This has enabled us to transition our program from aggressively removing deer and scale back our program to where our goal is to maintain the population,” DiVincenzo said. “While we have made tremendous progress, it is important to continue this maintenance mode to preserve the forest habitat and maintain our reservations as viable resources for recreation and open space,” the Executive pointed out.
“Over the last five years, we have removed over 800 deer from our reservations, started a program to accelerate the re-growth of our forests and introduced a pilot program to reduce traffic accidents involving deer. The over abundance of deer affects all of our communities, and our program provides a comprehensive approach to address the problem,” he said.
The program will be conducted in South Mountain Reservation on Tuesdays, January 22nd and January 29th and Thursday, January 24th in the afternoon only. It will be held in Hilltop Reservation and the old Essex County Hospital Center site in the mornings and afternoons on Thursdays, January 31st and February 7th and Tuesday, February 5th. The program will not be held in Eagle Rock Reservation. DiVincenzo noted that when the program started in 2008, it was held in the morning and afternoon on 12 days for a total of 24 sessions while this year’s program includes six days with just nine sessions. “We have updated our program to adapt to the changing conditions in each reservation,” DiVincenzo noted.
From 2008 to 2012, a total of 1,363 deer (818 deer and 545 unborn deer) were removed from the three reservations utilizing the volunteer services of experienced and qualified marksmen. There were 360 deer (213 deer and 147 unborn deer) removed in 2008, 138 deer (83 deer and 55 unborn deer) removed in 2009, 252 deer (160 deer and 92 unborn deer) removed in 2010, 339 deer (187 deer and 152 unborn deer) removed in 2011 and 274 deer (175 deer and 99 unborn deer) removed in 2012. South Mountain Reservation is located in Maplewood, Millburn and West Orange, and Hilltop Reservation is in Cedar Grove, North Caldwell and Verona.
To maximize safety, South Mountain Reservation, Hilltop Reservation, the Old Hospital Center Site and all parking areas and roads inside the two reservations will be closed to the public on the days the program is held in that specific reservation. Part of Fairview Avenue in Cedar Grove and Verona will be closed to traffic, but all other county roadways will remain open. Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, Essex County Codey Arena, the Essex County Park-N-Ride facility and McLoone’s Boathouse Restaurant in West Orange will remain open. The Essex County Sheriff’s Office will coordinate safety patrols with local police departments.
“Zero. That’s the number of incidents we have had during the first five years of this program and that’s how many I expect we will have this year. We work with our municipal partners to develop and executive a good plan,” Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura said. “The numbers shows this is definitely working,” he added.
Qualified, volunteer marksmen have been selected to participate in the program. The volunteers 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 will station themselves in trees at least 20 feet above the ground and only take shots at a downward angle.
All deer removed from the reservations will be transported to a check station where County officials will inspect the animals and collect information about its age, reproductive status, gender and weight, as well as the number of shots fired. They will then be transported by the County to a NJ Department of Health approved butcher for processing. Venison will be donated to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside, which will distribute the meat to the needy and homeless. In 2012, 4,572 pounds of venison were donated to the Community FoodBank, which provided about 18,000 meals for needy families. Volunteer marksmen who complete at least five (5) 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. In addition to today’s announcement, advertisements were placed in The Star-Ledger and several local weekly newspapers. Over 75,000 postcards were mailed to residents in Cedar Grove, Maplewood, Millburn, North Caldwell, Short Hills, Verona and West Orange; 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 underway in South Mountain Reservation and Eagle Rock Reservation. Forty-seven enclosures (42 in South Mountain and 5 in Eagle Rock) have been installed where native vegetative species have been planted so their seeds can be reintroduced into the area as the plants mature. The eight-foot high fences are designed to prevent deer and other large animals from foraging on the newly 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 2012, 201 deer were removed from County roads. In 2011, 233 deer were removed from County roads. There were 233 deer removed from County roads in 2011, 229 deer in 2010, 284 deer in 2009, 363 deer in 2008 and 303 in 2007.