UNION COUNTY — The Union County Department of Parks and Community Renewal has released details of its annual Deer Management Program, which will take place in Lenape Park, the Watchung Reservation and Passaic River Park beginning Monday morning, Jan. 7.
The Watchung Reservation spans almost 2,000 acres in Springfield, Mountainside, Scotch Plains, Summit, Berkeley Heights and Watchung. Lenape Park covers more than 400 acres of land in Cranford, Kenilworth, Union, Springfield and Westfield. Passaic River Park runs along the border with Morris County in Berkeley Heights, New Providence and Summit.
The Union County Deer Management Program will operate on Mondays from Jan. 7 to Feb. 4. In the event of a holiday or inclement weather on a Monday, the hunting activity will be moved to Wednesday that week. Hunters will be in the parks from 5 a.m. until after dark, but shooting may occur only during daylight hours.
Browsing for food by large numbers of deer has caused a loss of forest understory, especially in the Watchung Reservation and Lenape Park. 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 deer per square mile in a healthy hardwood forest and as low as five deer per square mile in a forest that has been heavily damaged by browsing. Spotlight counts conducted by the county in March 2012, showed the current deer densities to be about 39 per square mile in the Watchung Reservation and 185 per square mile in and around Lenape Park. Analysis completed by the County last year showed that roads bordering Lenape and Nomahegan Parks had some of the highest numbers of deer-car collisions in Union County.
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 2010, that effort was expanded to remove deer from portions of Passaic River Park in Summit. And last year hunters harvested deer from Lenape Park for the first time.
Twenty-three marksmen have been chosen by the county from among experienced, licensed hunters. More than half of the hunters have previously participated in Union County’s program; 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. About half 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 representatives from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. Anyone found hunting on any Union 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 the Watchung Reservation, Passaic River Park and Lenape Park will not be closed during the deer management program; however, portions of some roads inside the parks may be closed for short periods if necessary. Park patrons are urged to stay on the marked hiking, walking and bridle trails. Patrons also are urged to keep pets restrained on a leash.
A similar deer management effort will begin on Saturday at the Ash Brook Reservation and Golf Course in Scotch Plains.
For further information, go to the county’s website at http://ucnj.org/community/parks-community-renewal/wildlife-management/deer/ or contact the Union County Department of Parks and Community Renewal at 1-908-789-3682.