UNION COUNTY, NJ — Union County’s annual deer hunt will be held from Monday, Jan. 8 through Monday, Feb. 5, in six county parks and one municipal park, officials announced Dec. 26.
Forty hunters authorized by the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation will shoot from elevated positions, at least 20 feet high in the trees, over baited sites in the Watchung Reservation, the Summit portion of Passaic River Park, Ash Brook Reservation, Lenape Park, Nomahegan Park, Oak Ridge Park and the Hawk Rise Sanctuary.
The hunters have been chosen from among experienced, licensed hunters, the county said in a release; 85 percent of the volunteer hunters have previously participated in the county’s program. They will be wearing orange hats or vests.
The hunters may keep the carcasses of any deer killed. Many will be processed at a state-approved butcher and the venison donated to those in through the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside.
The deer-management program will be supervised by the Union County Police and the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and be held on Mondays; the program will move to Wednesday the week of Jan. 15. In the event of inclement weather on any other Monday, the hunting will be held the Wednesday of that week. If Wednesday brings inclement weather, the hunting will be moved to Friday. Hunters will be in the parks from 5:30 a.m. until after dark, but shooting may occur only during daylight hours.
In its release, the county said browsing for food by large numbers of deer has caused a loss of forest understory in park areas throughout the northeastern United States. The overpopulation of deer threatens the survival of the plant and animal communities important to the park ecology.
Forest ecologists recommend a density of 20 per square mile in a healthy hardwood forest and as low as five per square mile in a forest that has been heavily damaged by browsing. Spotlight counts conducted by Union County in April 2017 suggested 2017-2018 winter densities of about 58 deer per square mile in the Watchung Reservation; 84 per square mile in and around Ash Brook Reservation and Oak Ridge Park; 87 deer per square mile in the Hawk Rise Sanctuary, and 150 per square mile in and around Lenape and Nomahegan Parks.
An analysis completed by the county in 2011 showed that roads bordering Lenape and Nomahegan Parks had some of the highest numbers of deer-car collisions in the county. And in Hawk Rise Sanctuary in Linden, deer are threatening the survival of hundreds of native plants that were planted in conjunction with the construction of a boardwalk.
Since 1995, hunters in the county’s state-regulated deer management program have reduced the population of the white-tailed species in the Watchung Reservation substantially. In 2006, hunting was initiated in Ash Brook Reservation and in 2002 in portions of Passaic River Park in Summit. Five years ago, hunters harvested deer from Lenape Park for the first time. Three years ago, the county expanded the hunt to Nomahegan Park and Linden’s Hawk Rise Sanctuary. And Oak Ridge Park was added to the list of sites in 2016.
The Watchung Reservation spans more than 2,000 acres in Springfield, Mountainside, Scotch Plains, Summit, Berkeley Heights and Watchung. Passaic River Park spans 287 acres in Berkeley Heights, New Providence and Summit. Lenape Park covers 403 acres in Cranford, Kenilworth, Union, Springfield and Westfield. The Ash Brook Reservation encompasses 667 acres in Scotch Plains and Clark. The Hawk Rise Sanctuary includes about 45 acres of forest in Linden. And Oak Ridge Park consists of 90 acres in Clark and Edison.
The county warns that the parks will not be closed during the deer hunt, however, portions of some roadways inside the park may be closed for short periods. Park patrons are urged to stay on the marked hiking, walking and bridle trails. Park users also are urged to adhere to the county ordinance that requires that pets be restrained on a leash.
More information can be obtained from the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation at 908-527-4900. Hunters interested in joining this program in a future year can place their name on a mailing list for an application through county’s website, http://ucnj.org/parks-recreation/wildlife-management/deer/.