By KIRSTEN D. LEVINGSTON
For Montclair Local
Kirsten D. Levingston moved to Montclair in 2008. She works in the city and writes on the
side. In “Welcome to Montclair” she explores the quirks of this special town. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Huffington Post and Baristanet. In 2021 one of her essays will appear in “Of Courtiers and Princes: Stories of Lower Court Clerks and Their Judges.”
In less than two weeks 2020 goes in the trash bin, alongside mini-turkey carcasses, soggy face masks and sketchy lawsuits challenging the presidential election.
Another thing also hits the dumpster — the Essex County “deer management program.” The “program” is shorthand for when the county deploys expert markspeople to kill deer to maintain healthy forest ecosystems at South Mountain, Hilltop and Eagle Rock reservations.
This line of work comes with its own jargon. For example, deer poop is called “scat.” And deer aren’t killed, they’re “culled,” which as euphemisms go at least sort of sounds like what it really is. Word that Essex County canceled its January 2021 cull left me with ambivalence and questions.
On the one hand, I am relieved local deer will not meet the same brutal fate as Bambi’s mother. But on the other, the animals often appear, uninvited, at my house. At least once a week Bambi, his dad, The Great Prince of the Forest, his significant other, Faline, and second cousin Bucky flow through my yard chomping on the green and the gorgeous. For some reason they have no interest in the crabgrass and dandelions I’d actually like them to nibble on.
The herd that roams my yard must be large. It leaves behind enough droppings to fertilize the field at MetLife.
Deer sometimes make driving on Upper Mountain Avenue and Undercliff Road a bit of an obstacle course, forcing drivers to suddenly brake or swerve for slow-moving herds meandering across the streets, or those darting to get to the day lilies and tulips a nanosecond before they bloom. Mangled remains on the side of the road — car and animal parts — suggest some of us do not stop soon enough.
It is understandable that to protect flora, fauna and fenders, Essex County must control the deer population. Are hunters the only answer? Might there be a kinder, gentler way to tackle this problem?
Back in 2018 Montclair’s Environmental Commission formed a deer committee to address rising community complaints about doe damage. Advocates for non-lethal wildlife management techniques made their case, some promoting the family planning route.
Other counties in New Jersey have already experimented with deer vasectomies and birth control but found them less effective and more expensive than sharpshooters. As any woman who has been on the pill knows, consistency is important, and accidents can happen.
At least one non-lethal option has yet to be explored — contacting Carol Baskin of “Tiger King” fame to see if she’d expand her Big Cat Rescue sanctuary to make room for our excess deer.
Essex County’s rationale for canceling the hunt raises more questions. County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo says he called it off because energy and person-power is needed for COVID-19-related activities, like administering testing and vaccines when they are available.
I am grateful for the COVID-19 screening Essex County has provided for months now and have been tested at two county screening sites. It remains unclear, though, exactly how “deer management” staff will be integrated into our county’s pandemic strategy. One possibility is that markspeople will be deployed across Montclair wearing fur caps, plaid flannel shirts and fluorescent orange vests. Inconspicuously positioned in heavily trafficked areas like Church Street or Uptown, the hunters would patiently wait, blending in with the wildlife, sipping lattes or window-shopping.
At the right moment they would silently grip their rifles, peer through scopes and gently pull triggers. Unsuspecting pedestrians waiting to cross the street at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Park Street might feel a quick prick in the deltoid, as a vaccine-filled dart pierces the skin.
This, of course, is mere supposition about the county’s plan. If Mr. DiVincenzo intends to use deer management person-power in this manner to administer COVID-19 vaccines, I feel compelled to point out a major flaw with the approach: How exactly will the sharpshooters administer the second dose later?
Seriously, with this year’s hunt canceled, one wildlife management consultant predicts as much as a 30-percent increase in the area’s deer population, which means 30 percent more deer sightings, deer poop and garden damage.
In the scope of the global scat-pile known as 2020, these seem like minor inconveniences.
And with a vaccine on the way, things are looking up for people and deer alike.