Friday, February 29, 2008

NEW JERSEY NEWS: South Mountain Cull Over, 67 Deer Per Square Mile Killed

Essex County's South Mountain Reservation has 213 fewer deer after a monthlong hunt that ended today.

With no safety or security problems reported during the length of the hunt, county officials said they were pleased with the first year's results.

Since Jan. 29, a dozen volunteer sharpshooters have worked from tree stands at stations throughout the reservation to curb the deer population. The hunt took place on Tuesdays and Thursdays, though it was shortened from 10 days to 8½ because of inclement weather and the Presidents Day holiday.

"This program was a huge success," said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. "We are 12 years too late. (If we had started 12 years ago), we would not have the problem we have today."

Sharpshooters exceeded the county's goal of culling 150 deer from the 2,047-acre park two weeks ago. County leaders and environmental groups say the deer have overpopulated the park, ruined its underbrush and are a nuisance for drivers and residents living nearby.

Dan Bernier, a consultant hired from Union County to oversee the hunt, said each of the animals killed was checked for age and gender to learn more about the population of the South Mountain herd. Yesterday, 22 deer were killed. One male and three females were killed in the morning session, and five males and 13 females were killed in the afternoon session.

Of the 213 animals killed over the course of the hunt, 88 were male and 125 were female. Nearly all of the does were pregnant, some with twins. Bernier estimated the culling prevented an additional 125 deer from being born in the reservation.

Though the county executive acknowledged he'd gotten phone calls and letters from residents and deer activists objecting to the hunt, he said the hunt wasn't something he wanted to do, it was something that had to be done.

The county executive estimated the cost of the hunt at just under $60,000, factoring in Bernier's contract, overtime for sheriff's deputies and park employees and the cost of butchering the animals. The venison -- estimated at more than 15,000 pounds -- was donated to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

DiVincenzo said he planned to bring the marksmen back to South Mountain, which stretches through South Orange, Maplewood, Millburn and West Orange, and to other parks in the future.

"There's a major problem in the entire county," DiVincenzo said. "I plan to expand it next year."


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