13th annual deer management program begins in Essex County

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. outlined plans for the 2020 Essex County Deer Management Program in South Mountain and Hilltop reservations. This is the 13th 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, adjusting the number and schedule of days and transitioning into a ‘maintenance mode’ to keep the population at a manageable level,” DiVincenzo said. “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 in January, February and March on Tuesdays in South Mountain Reservation and Thursdays in Hilltop Reservation. The days in South Mountain Reservation are Tuesdays, Jan. 14, 21 and 28, and Feb. 4, 11 and 18, with makeup days on Tuesdays, Feb. 25 and March 3, if any previous dates are canceled. The days in Hilltop Reservation are Thursdays, Jan. 16, 23 and 30, and Feb. 6, 13 and 20, with makeup days on Thursdays, Feb. 27 and March 5, if any previous dates are canceled. 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 2,670 deer — 1,682 deer and 988 unborn deer — have been removed, with the county utilizing the services of experienced and qualified marksmen who volunteer their time. The marksmen 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, Cedar Grove Park and all parking areas and walking paths inside the 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 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 2019, 5,216 pounds of venison were donated to the food bank. Since 2008, a total of 47,075 pounds of venison have been donated to the food bank, which equates to more than 168,000 meals. Volunteer marksmen who complete at least seven half-day shifts of volunteer service will receive 40 pounds of venison.