The Union County Department of Parks and Recreation has released details of its annual Deer Management Program, which will begin on Monday morning, January 4 in six County parks and one municipal park. The program will operate 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.
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 that are important to the ecology of these parks.
Forest ecologists recommend a density of 20 per square mile in a healthy hardwood forest and as low as 5 per square mile in a forest that has been heavily damaged by browsing. Spotlight counts conducted by the County in April and May, 2015 suggested 2015-2016 overwintering densities of about 47 deer per square mile in the Watchung Reservation, 61 per square mile in and around Ash Brook Reservation and Oak Ridge Park, 73 deer per square mile in the Hawk Rise Sanctuary, and over 200 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, overbrowsing by deer is threatening the survival of hundreds of native plants introduced with the recent construction of a boardwalk.
Since 1995, marksmen in the County of Union’s state-regulated deer management program have reduced the population of white-tailed deer in the Watchung Reservation substantially. In 2005, hunting was initiated in Ash Brook Reservation and in 2006 in portions of Passaic River Park in Summit. Four years ago, hunters harvested deer from Lenape Park for the first time. Two years ago, the County began to conduct deer management in Nomahegan Park and in Linden’s Hawk Rise Sanctuary. And for the first time this year, Oak Ridge Park is being added the list of sites.
The Watchung Reservation spans over 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 of land 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 the City of Linden. And Oak Ridge Park consists of 90 acres of land in Clark and Edison.
The Union County Deer Management Program will operate on Mondays from January 4 to February 12. When there is a holiday on a Monday (Dr. M.L. King Day), the program moves to Wednesday. In the event of inclement weather on any other Monday, the hunting activity will be moved to Wednesday 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.
Forty marksmen have been chosen by the County from among experienced, licensed hunters. Eighty-five percent of the hunters have previously participated in Union County’s program, and all are serving on a voluntary basis. The hunters will be wearing orange hats or vests and will hunt the deer from elevated positions, at least 20 feet up in the trees, over baited sites.
The hunters may keep any deer carcasses that they harvest. Many of the deer will be processed at a State-approved butcher and the venison will be donated to the needy and homeless through the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.
The deer management program will be supervised by the Union County Police and the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. Anyone found hunting on any County park property outside the terms of this program will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Citizens observing any such illegal activity are urged to immediately contact the Union County Police at 908-654-9800.
The public should note that these parks will not be closed during the deer management program; however, portions of some roadways inside the park may be closed for short periods if necessary. 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.
For further information, go to the County’s website at https://ucnj.org/parks-recreation/wildlife-management/deer/ or contact the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation at (908) 527-4900. Hunters interested in joining this program in a future year can get onto a mailing list for applications through the website.