UNION COUNTY, NJ — Beginning Monday, Jan. 9, the Union County deer hunt will take place in six county parks and one municipal park. The parks in Union County that have the greatest density of deer are those that are being included in the hunt for this program. They include Watchung Reservation, Passaic River Park, Lenape Park, Nomahegan Park, Ash Brook Reservation, Oak Ridge Park and Linden’s Hawk Rise Sanctuary. The county is also monitoring an increase in deer density in Cedar Brook and Green Brook parks in Plainfield, a municipal green space in Plainfield, and Elizabeth River Park in Hillside.
The hunts will take place each consecutive Monday until Feb. 9. In the case of bad weather, the hunt will take place on Friday. The aim is to reduce the deer population as well as protect native vegetation.
“The goal is to remove 60 deer from the Watchung Reservation, 40 from the Lenape and Nomahegan Parks, five from Passaic River Park in Summit, 75 from Ash Brook Reservation and Oak Ridge Park and 15 from the Hawk Rise Sanctuary,” Daniel J. Bernier, director of the Union County Division of Park Planning and Environmental Services, told LocalSource in an email.
The event is free of charge and only applicants that fit the criteria will be permitted to participate in the hunt.
“Participants are required to be over 21 years of age, speak and understand the English language, possess a valid New Jersey Firearm Hunting License and New Jersey Firearm Purchasing Identification Card, have not been convicted of any firearm violation in any state in the last 10 years or any fish and game code violation in the last five years, have at least five years successful experience in hunting white-tailed deer with a shotgun, demonstrate an expertise in marksmanship, possess and be comfortable using a portable tree stand at a height of 20 feet or more and be able and willing to contribute voluntary service to the program for at least seven of the scheduled hunting shifts,” Bernier said.
While some residents might be concerned with the ethics of the deer hunt, there aren’t many options available to control deer population at this time.
“Research has been ongoing for two decades to produce a contraceptive drug for use in deer populations,” Bernier said. “However, the few drugs that now exist are extremely expensive to deliver, and are not practical or effective in use in free-ranging populations such as those in the Union County parks.”
The County will be responsible for some fees involved with the hunt.
“The County will have to pay for the butchering of any carcasses that aren’t kept by the hunters.” Bernier told LocalSource. “This will be approximately 20 percent of the deer hunted. The deer harvested will be transported to an approved butcher contracted by the county. The county will also be responsible for purchasing any bait required for the hunt.”
Dangers of overpopulation are a concern, and many of the parks in the county currently have twice as many deer per square mile than the recommended number.
“Forest ecologists recommend that white-tailed deer populations in Northeast hardwood forests should not exceed an overwintering density of 20 deer per square mile in order for deer browse to not impair forest health,” Bernier told LocalSource.
“In areas where the forest health is already compromised, deer density needs to be as low as 5 per square mile. The results of spotlight counts conducted in April, 2016 suggest 2016-2017 overwintering densities of 47 deer per square mile in the Watchung Reservation, more than 200 per square mile in and around Lenape and Nomahegan Parks, 154 per square mile in and around Ash Brook Reservation and Oak Ridge Park and 110 deer per square mile in the Hawk Rise Sanctuary. High densities of deer result in overbrowsing of native vegetation in park areas, stifling forest regeneration; browsing of residential landscaping surrounding the park properties; and an increased incidence of deer-related motor vehicle accidents.
One resident agrees that hunting can be an ethical and effective way to control deer population, as long as it is done properly.
“I was always taught if you’re going to hunt, don’t do it for sport,” John Dashuta of Clark told LocalSource in an interview. “It should be as painless as possible for the animal, and the hunter should use as much of the animal as possible. I think it’s acceptable as long as people follow these ethics and don’t go out to kill, just because.”