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Edison may consider deer hunts to address overpopulated deer population

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EDISON – The growing deer – specifically white tail deer – population has become a problem in the township – eating homeowner’s plants, leaving droppings on lawns, causing motor vehicle accidents and bringing concerns of Lyme disease.

“We all realize there is a definite deer problem,” Edison Township Councilman Robert Diehl said.

Jay Elliot, director of the Edison Department of Health and Human Services, Dan Bernier, director of parks, planning and environmental services for Union County Parks, and another member of the township department, set aside two days – four-and-a-half hours each day – to conduct a spotlight count of deer in four areas of the township in fall 2018.

Bernier said New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation. With Edison as one of the more highly developed areas in the state, white tail deer have not been staying in forested areas, he said.

“The deer population density is rising everywhere,” he said, noting the rise is not for the reasons some people typically think such as development. “Deer are edge species, they prefer to live on the edge of a forest where we’ve developed our homes and developed our landscape, which is more palatable and nutritious for them [rather than] what they would find in a forest. As a result, the reproductivity of deer increases because of better nutrition.”

Bernier said deer are creatures of habit and follow the same loop. He said usually a group of deer are led by a maternal doe.

He said the spotlight count of deer is a scientific process. The results are not absolute; he applies a formula and the result is the minimum number percentage of deer of the area surveyed, he said.

“Deer are wild and elusive animals,” he said. “We can only count the ones looking at us and see their eyes shine. We know we have missed some.”

In the vicinity of the Metuchen Golf and Country Club, some 70 deer were observed in an estimated 482 acres. Bernier said the number increased to an estimated 88 to account for the unforeseen deer.

A healthy forest should have no more than 20 deer per square mile.

The estimated density of the Metuchen Golf and Country Club is 117 deer per square mile.

Near the New Dover Road area, five deer were observed in a 57-acre area with the estimate of three unforeseen deer. In and around the Edison High School area, some 25 deer were counted in an 861-acre area, with six unforeseen deer.

Elliot said the areas they chose to conduct the count were more forested and open space areas with the possibility of a hunting remedy.

In April 2018, Anthony DeNicola, of White Buffalo Inc., a Connecticut-based deer management company, made a presentation on various options before the Township Council.

The options included having archers from an archery recreational program come in certain times of the year and hunt for deer in an open park; hire professional hunters to shoot and kill the deer; tranquilize and kill the deer; and/or tranquilize and transport deer to a medical facility for sterilization.

Bernier said the township would need to take an aggressive approach to combat the rising deer population, which has helped Union County and Essex County combat their deer problem.

Since 1994, some 2,375 deer has been harvested in Union County and since 2008, some 1,482 deer has been harvested in Essex County. The harvesting of deer has benefited the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. In Union County, more than 50,000 pounds – 200,000 meals – have been donated since 1995. In Essex County, more than 41,859 pounds – 168,000 meals – have been donated since 2008.

In 1995, Union County had a density of 180 deer per square mile, today with the harvesting of deer, the density is 35 deer per square mile. Bernier said for the longest time, the harvesting of deer was only conducted in the Watchung Reservation, and it has now expanded to seven other parks over the past 10 years.

In Essex County, the density of 210-215 deer per square mile is now 100 deer per square mile. Bernier said in the county, there has been a lot of alteration with development.

In Union and Essex counties, a large percentage of hunters come back every year because they the know deer population in the area and know their loops.

If not aggressive with harvesting deer, Bernier said the township would be wasting time, money and efforts of staff and volunteers.

Bernier said the proposed community based plan for removal of deer is not trophy based and rules and exceptions can be developed by the township. Hunting follows the state’s shotgun permit from the first week of January and second week of February.

In Essex County, which has a community based plan in place, hunters have to apply for the program, they have to be at least 21 years old, have five years experience hunting white tail deer, have no firearm violations in the last 10 years and no New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish and Wildlife violations in the last five years. Hunters also have to go through an annual marksmanship test and necessary background checks.

In neighboring Union County, Bernier said the county does not have a community-based plan, but hunts are conducted in the shotgun permit week. Marksmanship tests are conducted every third year. Hunters also need to be certified at a range for archery, which is part of the program.

Costs vary, with the community-based plan in Essex County, the harvesting of the deer is estimated at $450 to $1,000 a deer due to security and maintenance costs and the county pays for the butchering.

In Union County, parks are closed for hunting and the cost of harvesting is $26 a deer. Bernier noted hunters pay for the butchering and are allowed to take the deer home.

Councilman Robert Diehl suggested setting up a subcommittee and addressing the deer problem. At a meeting on May 20, he said the next steps are to find available spaces and areas to stage a hunt if the township were to decide to go that route, put a plan together, execute the plan and expand from there.

“This is not a short term deal, it is a commitment that will take quite some time,” he said.

Elliot said from the counts it is clear the deer population in the township is overpopulated. He said he will reach out to Bernier to look at the maps and surveys to put together what areas are feasible for a hunt.

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