Essex County outlines plans for 10th annual deer management program

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Essex County recently outlined plans for the 2017 deer management program in South Mountain Reservation and Hilltop Reservation. This is the 10th year of the program, which is geared toward revitalizing the forest ecology by reducing the number of deer. The program will not be held in Eagle Rock Reservation this year.

“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, reducing the number of days and transitioning into a ‘maintenance mode’ to maintain the population at a manageable level,” Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said in a press release. “This is just one facet of our comprehensive deer management program that also includes creating seed banks to accelerate the regrowth of the forests and installing reflectors and lights to enhance traffic safety by keeping deer from entering the roadway.”

The program will be held on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from Jan. 17 through Feb. 16. When the program is held, the reservations will be closed to the public to maximize safety. For the first time, makeup days have been scheduled in case the program is canceled because of inclement weather.

Deers will be culled in South Mountain Reservation on Jan. 17 and 19, with makeup days being Jan. 24 and 26. South Mountain Reservation is located in Maplewood, Millburn and West Orange. Deers will be culled in Hilltop Reservation on Jan. 31 and Feb. 2, 7 and 9, with makeup days being Feb. 14 and 16. Hilltop Reservation is located in Cedar Grove, North Caldwell and Verona.

Since 2008, a total of 2,013 deer — 1,254 deer and 759 unborn deer — were removed utilizing the volunteer services of experienced and qualified marksmen who volunteer their time. They are licensed by the state of New Jersey and have 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. When in the reservations, the agents station themselves in trees at least 20 feet above the ground and only take shots at a downward angle.

To maximize safety, South Mountain Reservation, Hilltop Reservation and all parking areas and walking paths inside the two reservations will be closed to the public on the days the program is held in that specific reservation. Turtle Back Zoo, Codey Arena, the Park-N-Ride facility and McLoone’s Boathouse in West Orange and all county roads through the reservations will remain open. The Essex County Sheriff’s Office will coordinate safety patrols with local police departments.

All deer removed from the reservations are inspected and information about its age, reproductive status, gender and weight, as well as the number of shots fired, is collected. They are transported by the county to a N.J. Department of Health-approved butcher for processing. Venison is donated to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside, which distributes the meat to the needy and homeless. In 2016, 3,803 pounds of venison were donated to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, which provided approximately 15,000 meals. Since 2008, a total of 36,452 pounds of venison have been donated to the FoodBank, which equates to approximately 145,000 meals. Volunteer marksmen who complete at least eight half-day shifts of volunteer service will receive 40 pounds of venison.