By Jay Cook |
COLTS NECK – Elected officials say it’s time to crack down on the persistent problem of white-tailed deer overpopulation with the only guaranteed method they know: expanding a growing legal hunting program in town.
“No matter how many ways you skin this cat, it comes down to increased regulated hunting as the safest, most effective way to deal with the issue,” said Michael Viola, chairman of the township’s Wildlife Committee.
According to the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife, the white-tailed deer population in the state is at roughly 150,000, equating to about 30 animals per square mile. That is about 20 deer per square mile more than the accepted reasonable density level for New Jersey.
In May, Viola and his committee approached the Township Committee with a mid-program report on deer management data in Colts Neck.
In that report, the committee recommended that Colts Neck take more measures to amend discharge ordinances and allow for new hunting to take place on municipally-owned properties.
According to data provided by both Colts Neck and the state, the 2016-17 hunting season was one of the busiest in recent years since the township began compiling data for research in 2012.
Through both bow and firearm – shotgun and muzzleloader – hunting, 641 deer were harvested in Colts Neck this past season. That marks a nearly 34 percent rise from the 2015-16 season.
Those results, according to Viola, were not caused by any single occurrence in town. He said it may have stemmed from a warmer than normal winter and the deer herd “moving around a bit more for sustenance.”
Viola estimated that it’s a nearly 80-20 split between bow hunting versus firearm hunting in Colts Neck.
After last year’s deer management report, the Colts Neck township committee voted to decrease the minimum acreage allowed for hunting from five acres to three acres, and also amended the discharge ordinance to aggregated three-acre lots, meaning neighbors could piece their land together to achieve that three acres.
“The concern is that deer have safe havens now,” Colts Neck Mayor Russell Macnow said, “and we want to start looking at some of those.”
On the county level, hunting yields also saw an increase from 426 in the 2015-16 season to 546 this past season, according to the Monmouth County Park System (MCPS).
“I think state-wide there is a problem of overpopulation,” said Anna Luiten, senior ecologist with MCPS. “It is very prevalent in Monmouth County.”
According to Luiten, the white-tailed deer population is “decimating” the protected forests supervised by the MCPS.
Deer are scavengers that not only turn up the forest ground when walking, but forage off it and eat any saplings or young flora. The white-tailed deer, she said, “can have a really wide-ranging impact on the composition of the forest.”
Regulated hunting on MCPS grounds first began in the 2004-05 season and, through this past year, there were 21 different parks and recreation areas where hunting, in some capacity, was permitted.
All hunters must be licensed and have tags issued from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, and must pay an additional $25 fee to offset park expenses for the deer hunting season. That quasi-tax yielded just over $21,000 for MCPS this past season.
Also after last year’s Colts Neck Wildlife Committee report, two additional sites in town were added to the MCPS’ hunting list – Dorbrook Park and Hominy Hill Golf Course.
Both Dorbrook and Hominy Hill are Category 1 parks, meaning only bow hunting from an elevated, non-permanent tree stand is allowed.
In its first year open to state hunting, there were 26 deer harvested in total from the two parks – 18 from Hominy Hill and eight from Dorbrook.
Luiten said the results from the two new Colts Neck additions were “low from what we would like to see,” but most likely attributed to first-year jitters.
Regardless of why the local herds should to be managed, either from an ecological platform or because of an abundance of motor vehicle accidents, both MCPS and Colts Neck agree that hunting is the preferred method over the other two potential options: oral contraceptives and tranquilize-and-transport.
Colts Neck resident Eric Tucker is concerned the township has their mindset solely on hunting.
“The hunting doesn’t work,” Tucker said. “There’s only limited areas where you can hunt where you’re not too close to some homes.”
Tucker said he believes a majority of other Colts Neck residents feel the white-tailed deer is a nuisance in town, saying “they eat all of the vegetation and of course they’re dangerous.”
He suggested the town try contraceptives along with the hunting because there’s no “discernable decrease” in the deer population from hunting alone.
NJ Fish & Wildlife has tried deer contraception in the past, with mixed to poor results.
Different vaccines, from SpayVac to GonaCon had been used throughout the state in the past two decades. According to a Community Deer Management Report by the state, SpayVac had failed in preventing pregnancies in 20 deer at a Somerset County farm. In 2005, the state experimented with GonaCon and found that 32 percent of the sample size still became pregnant. Additionally, 84 percent of the treated deer suffered from granulomas – a type of inflammation – at the entry site, and 24 percent had grown abscesses.
“With science and expense, it’s not effective enough to be deemed a good deal,” Luiten said about the contraception.
The other method of control, tranquilize-and-transport, has been effectively ruled out by MCPS and Colts Neck due to the high mortality rates associated with it.
Besides possibly breaking bones of transported deer, the process can potentially lead to Chronic Wasting Disease, which degenerates a deer’s brain and can lead to death.
Macnow and Viola said it also just pushes the problem onto another county or municipality, not solving the issue.
“I wouldn’t even consider it,” Viola said.
Controlling the white-tailed deer population has been a constant topic of conversation for the Colts Neck governing body in recent years.
Maybe the most visible evidence of the high deer population is the number of deceased deer found alongside local roads after colliding with a car.
In 2016, there were 233 reported car accidents involving a deer in town. The periods from January to March and September through December proved to provide the highest number of accidents – nearly 76 percent of all accidents fell in those months.
Viola said “it’s like clockwork,” considering those months falls right in line with the rut and hunting seasons.
Macnow said the township began officially tracking and compiling crash data from deer-involved accidents since June 2014 after concerns from residents began to grow.
In the time since, a staggering 747 reported white-tailed deer-related car accidents have occurred in Colts Neck.
Macnow said motorists are urged to report any car accidents related to contact with white-tailed deer, because without those accurate numbers, he said the township “can’t accurately quantify the problem.”
“We get to the point where it’s human life over the life of the deer,” Macnow said.
This article was first published in the July 6-13, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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