By Jaimie Julia Winters
The Montclair Environmental Commission is recommending that a deer count be conducted to assess the number of deer and their locations. Members are also discussing the possibility of the town pursuing vaccination birth control and, if all else fails, hunting.
Over the past year, the township has received numerous deer complaints from residents, including damage to residential property in terms of shrubs and plantings. Other concerns are lyme disease and motor vehicle accidents.
Essex County conducts deer hunts at South Mountain and Hilltop reservations. The last deer hunt at Eagle Rock in 2012 resulted in 23 deer being culled. The county then decided the numbers were low enough not warrant the cost and manpower to continue hunting at Eagle Rock.
No hunts have ever been held around the Mills Reservation, which straddles Montclair’s northwestern border with Cedar Grove. Anecdotal evidence suggests that deer tend to gather around Mills and adjacent properties and other parks in town as well as along Toney’s Brook, according to Montclair Environment Commission members.
The costs per deer range from hunting at $500, an immuno-contraception vaccine delivered to female deer by a dart gun at $1,200 and male vasectomies at $2,778.
Theresa Trapp, treasurer for the Hilltop Conservancy, agrees that many of Montclair’s deer are heading from Mills, but said darting would be impossible there due to a law which prohibits darting within 2,000 feet of a structure.
“Neither surgical sterilization nor immuno-contraceptive programs can be effectively implemented in suburbia without changing the mobile dart gun rule of 2,000 feet,” said Trapp, who has researched wildlife management programs. “Until that regulation is changed or modified, any non-lethal programs have to rely on box or net traps, which are very inefficient or labor intensive, can be vandalized, and can result in trauma and injury to the deer.”
The inoculations also require boosters after three years, meaning the same deer would have to be identified and darted again.
Whether Montclair pursues inoculations or hunting, there’s a lengthy process of required approvals from both the county and the state.
“DEP’s Community Based Deer Management Program permitting process requires that proposals be submitted and approved the summer before any proposed hunt,” Trapp said. “Meaning, Essex County has already submitted and obtained approval for its January-February 2019 program, which cannot be altered at this late date. So if Montclair decides to go that route, the first time a program could be implemented at Mills and Eagle Rock is January-February 2020.”
She suggested the town request that Essex County extend their lethal program to Mills Reservation and renew it in Eagle Rock.
Experts say the deer population has boomed because they have no natural predators.
Wildlife managers seek to maintain natural behavior and that’s why they support hunting and other lethal methods. In a balanced ecosystem, one with large predators, death would be a natural force, as predators kill and consume prey, keeping the population in check.
“People tend to forget that death is a natural part of any ecosystem, especially suburbanites,” Trapp said. “Someone who doesn’t blink an eye at digging into a bucket of extra crispy [chicken], or slapping a big juicy steak on the grill, suddenly gets squeamish about shooting deer. The only difference between the two is that the former is death by cash register, the latter is death by shotgun slug.”
For years, Saddle River has appealed to the state to allow non-lethal deer management within its borders. After being turned down, officials there have requested to join the hunt.
The Montclair Environmental Commission announced three recommendations under discussion for the town at their Oct. 10 meeting:
- To conduct a deer count and find out main locations where deer gather;
- If deer are populations are concentrated near Mills or other parks, perhaps sharpshooting tranquilizers followed by vaccinations is an option; and
- To reassess if that is working and if not, extend the sharpshooting program to Mills every two years, or whenever necessary.