Anti-hunt group fails to sway N.J. town officials


Mar 11, 2001
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Anti-hunt group fails to sway town officials


A proposal to hire sharpshooters to curb the deer population took a big step forward last Thursday when all five members of the Township Committee backed it as being more practical than an anti-hunt group's call for non-lethal alternatives.
The stance capped a four-and-a-half hour meeting that featured a lengthy question-and-answer session with the anti-hunt group and passionate arguments both pro and con from a crowd of about 65 people. Committee members, while praising the work of the anti-hunt group, said immunocontraception using darts is still a largely unproven, experimental process that will not address deer-related health and safety problems for years, if ever.

''My problem with it is it can't be done tomorrow,'' said Mayor William Holmes. ''I would like to see if contraception can ultimately be the control but I don't want to wait for it.''

Committeewoman Carolyn Kelly agreed. ''I don't see it as something that's going to help us now,'' she said. ''Something needs to be done now.''

The hunt still requires approval from the state Division of Fish and Wildlife (D FW). The township filed an application in January but the DFW says it will not a ct until the township selects a sharpshooting firm.

According to Holmes, the task force has solicited bids but has not made a recommendation to the governing body. He said if the hunt is to start in December, as planned, ''there should be some things happening in the month of October.''

The DFW approved similar proposals by Millburn and Princeton last year.

The hunt, which was proposed by a deer study task force last November, was prompted by deer-related motor vehicle accidents, the spread of Lyme disease, damage to landscaping and destruction of the woodland undergrowth. It aims to reduce the herd by two-thirds over five years.

Under the plan, the committee would hire a firm employing professional sharpshooters who would hunt from tree stands at bait sites at eight to 12 so far unidentified locations.

Although the task force said it found non-lethal means to be ineffective, an ant i-hunt group quickly emerged and attacked the plan as inhumane. The group, Bernards Citizens for Rational Deer Management (BCRDM), released a counterproposal in July.

The document said immunocontraception could also reduce the herd by two-thirds over a period of nine years. It also advocated public education, installing roadside reflectors to reduce accidents, and hiring a township wildlife consultant to provide advice on plantings.

'Community Values'

The BCRDM later asked the Township Committee to meet with it to review the counterproposal.

Last Thursday, the meeting was held in the Town Hall assembly room where the committee sat on the dais above a table seating four BCRDM leaders Fran Storer of Cross Road, Jane Books of North Maple Avenue, Michelle Vitiello Bullion Road and Rosemary Grace of East Oak Street.

Books went on to read a four-page statement which she said ''public safety, community values, the reputation and the character of our town, are at stake.''

''How we deal with wildlife must be consistent with the conflict resolution skills we want our children to learn,'' she added. ''Do we really want the slaughter of animals to become an annual ritual along with the holiday traditions we have come to expect in our town?''

Committee members then asked questions of the group for nearly two hours, with t he questioning dominated by Committeeman Bill Allen, the liaison to the task force, and Holmes. The questions focused on immunocontraception.

At the request of the BCRDM, the Humane Society of the United States has offered to run a trial research project in the township in which white-tailed deer would be shot with darts containing the PZP vaccine. The trials, to be overseen by t he Food and Drug Administration (FDA), would determine, among other things, the safety and efficiency of different doses.

Deer would be tagged and recaptured to test their blood levels. The trial would occur at the Lyons Veterans Administration Medical Center campus and Pleasant Valley Park off Valley Road. After three to five years, the results would determine if the project could expand.

Storer, in response to a question from Holmes, acknowledged that PZP is not yet commercially available. But she said it has been tried on a trial basis at Fire Island, N.Y., and four other sites and has not proven harmful to humans.

Moreover, she said, immunocontraception reduced Fire Island's deer population by 40 percent.

Allen viewed Fire Island as different. ''It's like a petting zoo,'' he said. ''The deer are known by name, and they're so tame, they come up to people. It's not like Bernards Township. It's an island with a small quantity of deer and they're treated like domestic animals.''

Various concerns were voiced. Allen said a lost dart could be picked up by ''an immature person'' and poked at someone. Holmes said a hunter might shoot and eat a darted deer and become ''violently ill.'' Kelly questioned whether feces from darted deer might contaminate soils and groundwater.

Storer argued that immunocontraception ''is absolutely under the control of the FDA and that's why it's safe. They won't allow something that's deleterious to health.''

Allen questioned whether the Humane Society has an immunocontraception plan ''that can be applied practically'' throughout the township. Storer conceded that it does not.

Holmes asked how long it would take for the plan to go beyond the trial stage. He said the herd appears to be growing by 40 to 50 percent each year.

Storer said the deer counts are exaggerated. ''They're only more visible because we keep chopping down their habitat and they end up in our back yards,'' she said.

'Reaching For Excuses'

Allen disagreed, saying the herd is now larger than the community is willing to tolerate. ''We really feel you're reaching for excuses to delay what we need to do,'' he said.

''That's unfair,'' countered Books. ''We have not made allegations that are not supported or documented ... We're not saying 'Don't do anything.' We've given you 87 pages of things to do.''

Allen, however, pointed to the lack of a long-term, township-wide plan for immunocontraception. ''Unless someone shows me a model of how it's going to work and how it makes sense on paper, I don't see why anyone would want to go down that road.''

Allen also noted that deer are already dying violently in motor vehicle collisions. ''What we are proposing is less violent,'' he said. ''Being hit by a car is not a pleasant thing.''

''Neither,'' said Books, ''is being hit by a mushrooming bullet.''

Nineteen people from the audience then addressed the committee, with six favoring the hunt and 12 opposing it or urging a delay. Statements by both sides drew applause.

One hunt opponent, Richard Palluzi of Summit Drive, questioned whether it was mo rally right ''to kill animals to make our life better.'' He then drew applause b y calling for a voter referendum.

But Holmes rejected the idea. He said there are many misconceptions about a hunt, citing, as an example, fears that sharpshooters will venture into back yards. ''A referendum is only good if the information people have is pure.''

''I'm not sure you can do a referendum on an issue like this,'' he added. ''That 's why you have elected officials to make decisions like this.''

The mayor said Township Attorney John Belardo, who was not present, had told him the hunt was ''not a referendum issue,'' although he did not specify why.

Joanna Volz of North Maple Avenue blasted the hunt as ''a patently horrible, despicable message that we're sending to our children.''

Dan McWhorter of Culberson Road urged the committee to delay a decision. ''The deer problem didn't get here overnight and we don't need an overnight fix,'' he s aid.

Anthony Fiore of Atlas Road saw it differently, saying that while he enjoyed the ''novelty'' of deer when he moved here 20 years ago, the growing herd has cause d him physical, emotional and economic loss. He recalled an accident with a deer that totalled his car and left glass flying into his face.

''We do not have the luxury of five years to let the herd continue to grow,'' Fiore said.

'Unusable Yard'

Mohammad Ali Chaudry of Manor Drive, a Republican candidate for the Township Committee, also backed a hunt, saying his grandchildren cannot picnic in his back yard because deer droppings ''are all over the place'' and have made the yard '' unusable.''

''For quality of life, you have to be able to use your property for the purposes you intended,'' he said.

Committee members went on to state their positions, although there was no actual vote.

Kelly and Committeeman Albert LiCata said they could not endorse immunocontraception as an option until it is proven to be safe. Said LiCata, ''I'm not going to be the one to vote for Bernards Township to be the trial location for experimental drugs.''

LiCata said the BCRDM's proposals for road reflectors, a wildlife consultant and public education should all be tried. But he said the group had understated the impact of Lyme disease, noting that his father, wife and other relatives have a ll had it.

Committeewoman Gailanne Barth said she had hoped immunocontraception would be the answer ''but seriously and pragmatically, that option is not an alternative here.''

''If in three, five years, they come up with an answer, we might have a solution but we don't have that long and we do have a health and safety issue,'' she said.

As the consensus became clear, audience members gradually left and only a dozen or so people remained when the discussion ended at 12:05 a.m.

An aerial survey has put the township's deer population at 1,376, for average of 56 deer per square mile. The task force maintains that anything exceeding 20 de er per square mile has a negative impact on the ecosystem and a ''cultural impact'' on humans.

The DFW has said if the township wants to get down to a post-fawning population of 495 deer by 2004, combined sports hunting and sharpshooting efforts would nee d to kill 770, 600, 500 and 100 deer in each of the next four years. Sports hunting killed about 270 deer last year.

The plan would cost an estimated $67,000 in 2001, $91,000 in 2002, $91,000 in 20 03 and $93,000 in 2004. Afterward, $80,000 per year would be needed for hunts and surveys to keep the herd at the reduced level.


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Jun 15, 2001
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Wow!  I wish CA could trade some of its problems for this one...
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