By: Lauren T. Agnew
On Friday, March 2nd, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that 152 deer and 88 unborn deer were removed from Essex County South Mountain Reservation and Essex County Hilltop Reservation during the Annual Deer Management Program.
The program was held over 12 days between Tuesday, January 10th, and Thursday, February 23rd. It was the first time the program was held since 2019 because of the pandemic.
“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, adjusting the number and schedule of days and transitioning into a ‘maintenance mode’ to keep 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.
The results are as follows:
South Mountain Reservation is 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.
Since 2008, 3,057 deer (1,926 deer and 1,131 unborn deer) have been removed utilizing the services of experienced and qualified sharpshooters who volunteer their time.
They are licensed by the State of New Jersey, 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.
In the reservations, the agents stationed themselves in trees at least 20 feet above the ground and only took shots at a downward angle.
To maximize safety, South Mountain Reservation, Hilltop Reservation, Cedar Grove Park, and all parking areas and walking paths inside the 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, Essex County Park-N-Ride facility, McLoone’s Boathouse Restaurant in the Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex in West Orange, and all County roads through the reservations were kept 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 their age, reproductive status, gender, weight, and the number of shots fired was collected. The County transported them to an NJ Department of Health-approved butcher for processing.
Venison was donated to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Hillside, which distributed the meat to the needy and homeless. This year, 4,405 pounds of venison were donated to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey to be given to less fortunate residents.
Since 2008, 51,480 pounds of venison have been donated to the Food Bank. Volunteer sharpshooters who completed at least seven (7) half-day shifts of volunteer service received 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 was 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), distributed to an e-mail database maintained by the County Executive’s Office and posted on the County’s social media accounts. Electronic message boards and stationary billboards were placed along roadways and entrances around the reservations to notify motorists and pedestrians.
In addition, Municipal Liaisons appointed by the County Executive presented information to the municipal governments at public meetings.
In addition to culling the deer herd, an aggressive replanting program to accelerate the re-growth 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 in 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 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.