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County Exec Says Deer Culling Program May End This Year

Whether deer hunt will continue next year is "under discussion."

Essex County's may have reached the end of the line.

County officials told reporters Wednesday they were debating whether the deer hunt would be necessary in the years to come.

"Whether we're going to have the deer culling program next year is under discussion," County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. announced during a press conference to outline results from the deer cull.

The county deer management program concluded its fifth year last week. It aims to curb the deer population and restore eroding undergrowth in the county's three reservations: Eagle Rock, South Mountain and the Hilltop.

This year, a total of 274 deer were culled, 99 of which were unborn fetuses. According to county records, 50 deer and 29 fetuses were culled from South Mountain Reservation, 23 deer and 18 fetuses from Eagle Rock Reservation and 102 deer and 52 fetuses from the Hilltop Reservation.

DiVincenzo, though, said the numbers were just shy of meeting the mark.

"Based on the number we were able to remove this year, we had certain goals that we were going to hit in each of the areas, we did not hit those goals," he said.

The county originally set goals for the number of deer to be removed: 133 from South Mountain, 86 from Eagle Rock and 141 from Hilltop.

Daniel Bernier, wildlife management consultant to the county, said ideally, the reservations should have five deer per square mile to allow the forest to properly regenerate.

He said the county would conduct an aerial and on-the-ground population study in April to reevaluate the need for the program.

An aerial study was conducted five years ago but the spotlight check on the ground is done every year, Bernier said. Both will be done at night.

"After those numbers come back we're going to see where the problem is, if there is no problem, there will be no culling program next year," DiVincenzo said. "Our goal … was to reduce the population of the deer, and in a five year period, there's no question that's what we have done.

More than 1,000 deer have been culled in the past four years according to statistics provided by county officials. In 2011, 339 deer were removed from the reservations, 252 deer were removed in 2010, 138 in 2009 and 360 in 2008.

This year, the program ran from Jan. 17 to Feb. 23. Twenty-two volunteer and licensed hunters were allowed on the reservations to hunt the deer.

About 3,700 pounds of venison were given to the New Jersey Food Bank to feed the homeless and the needy. The donation will provide about 15,000 meals. 

Hunters that worked at least six shifts were given 40 pounds of venison.

Officials also addressed recent concerns over an injured deer found in West Orange by a resident. Bernier said the deer was found alive by a park user in a stream and died shortly after. He assured that the deer had not been shot, but had been hit by a car.

He admitted, "there are incidents where the hunter shoots the deer and the deer may run," but said, "in all those cases we spend considerable effort to make sure that we recover them."


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