Deer culling is slated to begin in Essex County next week.
The deer management program, now in its fifth year, will take a three-pronged approach to curb the deer population and restore the eroding reservations: the deer hunt, deer deflectors on the roadways and a replanting program in the reservations.
"It's not just about culling deer — I love deer, I'm not a hunter — this is a necessity," Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said. "There's nothing left for the deer to eat."
DiVincenzo and other county officials outlined plans for this year's deer hunt Wednesday afternoon. The program will run for six-weeks, from Jan. 17 to Feb. 23, at the South Mountain Reservation, the Eagle Rock Reservation and the Hilltop Reservation. The reservations will be closed every Tuesday and Thursday until the end of the hunt.
All parking areas in the reservation will be closed except access to the Highlawn Pavilion in the Eagle Rock Reservation.
Fairview Avenue between Durrel Street and Myrtle Avenue in Verona, Cedar Grove and Caldwell will be the only road closed during the days of the hunt. The road will allow traffic from 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays between the morning and afternoon hunting shifts.
In addition to the deer hunt, the program includes the installation of detection devices on county roads that emit a high-pitched noise when cars approach so deer are discouraged from stepping on to the roads. DiVincenzo said the devices help prevent car accidents and enhances the safety of drivers on the roads. The deflectors have been installed along Cherry Lane, Brookside Drive, JFK Parkway and Parsonage Hill Road.
Replanting is also underway as part of the program. To restore the loss of vegetaion, 47 enclosures with eight-foot high fences will be errected in both South Mountain and Eagle Rock Reservations to keep deer and other large animals away from newly planted areas. The fences will remain for 25 years.
DiVincenzo said though the program itself is cost-free for the county, roughly $80,000 to $85,000 will be spent in overtime for sheriff officers and department of public works personnel. Sherriff officers will sweep and secure the reservations prior to the hunt to ensure there is no one inside. Public works crews will also help transport the dead deer to a check station where the deer will be inspected and counted.
Twenty-two licensed and specially trained hunters volunteered for the program and will work morning and afternoon shifts at each of the reservations. The hunters will be perched in trees and must be at least 20 feet off the ground.
Though there is no limit to the number of deer culled by hunters, the county has set goals for the number of deer removed from the reservations: 133 from South Mountain, 86 from Eagle Rock and 141 from Hilltop.
County officials emphasized the program was meant to address the outstanding deer population and the erosion of the reservations.
"This is not a sport hunt," said Dan Bernier, a consultant for the county, and director of the Union County Division of Park Planning and Maintenance. He said any deer with antlers will have its antlers removed and kept by the county for educational purposes.
He said once the deer are removed, they will be distributed to the butcher for processing. Most of the venison will be given to the New Jersey Food Bank to feed the homeless and the needy. Hunters that work at least six shifts will receive 40 pounds of venison.
More than 1,000 deer have been culled in the past four years according to statistics provided by county officials. In 2011, 339 deer were removed from the reservations, 252 deer were removed in 2010, 138 in 2009 and 360 in 2008.
As to when the program will come to end, DiVicenzo said, "This has to continue every year … so that we can bring back the forrest."