By Kelly Nicholaides
for Montclair Local
To get a handle on the extent of the deer problems in Montclair, the Environmental Commission will recommend that the township conduct an assessment.
“We spoke to a bunch of organizations that do community deer management guidelines and best practices for communities. I recommend that we do an assessment to see the scope and nature of what’s happening,” said member Suzanne Aptman at the Commission’s Nov. 14 meeting.
The committee will also recommend a webpage to educate the public about yard plantings that deter deer and ask the council to update codes on yard fencing to allow eight-foot fencing as opposed to the maximum height of six feet, members said.
Member Gray Russell indicated that changing the code on fencing may be a hard push. “For the past 30 years, residents are limited in how much they do with fencing,” Russell said.
Aptman noted that all options are on the table for the township to consider after the board makes recommendations within the coming months. Member Imke Oster said the deer fencing is see-through like a screen, unlike normal picket or lattice fencing.
The assessment will not be a deer count, Aptman noted.
Montclair can accommodate 120 deer, equating to 20 per square mile, according to wildlife management experts. However, since half the town is covered in asphalt, homes, buildings, and sidewalks, deer are encroaching on backyards and streets. Russell said that eight deer live near Brookdale Park.
Counts have been conducted in Essex County in Hilltop Conservancy in Verona and South Mountain in West Orange following annual deer hunts since 2008. This year’s count at Hilltop was 45, up from 17 in 2017. South Mountain’s count was 53, up 23 percent. Eagle Rock’s count was at three this year and in 2017. The county estimates that deer numbers have South Mountain at 151, Hilltop at 90 and Eagle Rock at 12.
So far this year, Montclair had nine deer carcass retrievals. Last year, there were 24.
Deer management can be done with a hunt as well as fertility controls. Statewide, there were 48,545 deer harvested in 2017-2018, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Wildlife. For hunters, the state has more than 750,000 acres of public land available. But for suburban areas like Montclair, outside of the areas allowable for a hunt, the challenge of controlling the deer population is bigger. This is especially true since suburbia is the perfect breeding ground for deer, according to Theresa Trapp, treasurer and restorationist at Hilltop Conservancy. “There’s no predators—cougars, bears or wolves—like there used to be. There’s only cars and an occasional dog. And there’s food, lots of it,” said Trapp.
A doe can have three or four fawns a year and could double the deer population in a few years with no wildlife management plan in place. In the meantime, worries over deer motor vehicle accidents, Lyme disease and habitat destruction will leave towns like Montclair with an issue that will need to be addressed, experts say.