County outlines plan for 2018 deer culling program

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. recently outlined plans for the 2018 Essex County Deer Management Program in South Mountain Reservation and Hilltop Reservation. This is the 11th year of the program, which is geared toward revitalizing the forest ecology by reducing the number of deer.

“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,” DiVincenzo 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 re-growth 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 the afternoons of the following days: In South Mountain Reservation on Tuesdays, Jan. 16, 23 and 30, and on Thursdays, Jan. 18 and 25, with a makeup day on Thursday, Feb. 1, if any previous dates are canceled; and in Hilltop Reservation on Tuesdays, Feb. 6, 13 and 20, and Thursdays, Feb. 8, 15 and 22, with makeup days on Tuesday, Feb. 27, and Thursday, March 1, if any previous dates are canceled. When the program is held, the reservations will be closed to the public to maximize safety; commuters can still utilize roads leading through the reservation though. South Mountain Reservation is located in Maplewood, Millburn and West Orange, and Hilltop Reservation is in Cedar Grove, North Caldwell and Verona. The program will not be held in Eagle Rock Reservation.

Since 2008, a total of 2,158 deer — 1,343 deer and 815 unborn deer — have been removed utilizing the 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 Essex County Park-N-Ride facility and McLoone’s Boathouse Restaurant in the South Mountain Recreation Complex 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 an 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 2017, 1,968 pounds of venison were donated to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, which provided approximately 7,900 meals. Since 2008, a total of 38,420 pounds of venison have been donated to the FoodBank, which equates to approximately 153,700 meals. Volunteer marksmen who complete at least seven half-day shifts of volunteer service will receive 40 pounds of venison.

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