Beyond Princeton, NJ deer harvests proceed without protest


Mar 11, 2001
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Statewide, deer harvests proceed without much ado

By: David Campbell, Princeton Packet Staff Writer

April 19, 2002

Culling operations in other New Jersey towns draw little protest.

  While the din of protest surrounding Princeton Township's deer cull this year was making headlines in newspapers from New York to Philadelphia and all points in between, other municipalities in New Jersey went about the business of killing deer under the state's deer-management program in relative obscurity.

  "We had our share of protesters in the early years, but they all came to accept it," said Dan Bernier, who has overseen the cull in Union County's Watchung Reservation since the program began there in 1994. "People see it's working and they let it go."

  Mr. Bernier said the reservation was the very first to take advantage of the state deer-management program when it was set up in 1994 — he said reservation permits for the first two years of culling were numbers 001 and 002.

  The 3-square-mile Watchung Reservation supported around 180 deer per square mile when the cull began in 1994 and it reduced the herd to around 20 deer per square mile by 1999, one year ahead of schedule.

  Unlike Princeton Township, which hired Connecticut-based wildlife-management firm White Buffalo to cull at night using silenced, high-powered rifles and hand-held captive bolt guns that kill with a retractable metal bolt to the animal's head, the reservation used carefully selected volunteers to cull by day with shotguns.

  Mr. Bernier said a maintenance program now is under way in the reservation to keep the herd stable. Volunteers killed 52 deer in 2000, another 50 in 2001 and 47 this year.

  "Our plan is to always do maintenance until someone finds a better way," Mr. Bernier said.

  Contrary to claims by some critics of lethal deer management, he noted, the Watchung cull did not spur reproduction.

  Pat Thomas, chairman of Watchung's Deer Management Committee and a curator at the Bronx Zoo, said a comparison of the number of embryos, fetuses and corpra eludia — structures that form after the release of eggs — during the cull to numbers from before the cull began showed no significant increase in reproduction caused by hunting pressure.

  But Mr. Thomas said he saw an increase in body weight of yearling fawns of both sexes as a result of herd reduction, indicating increased nutrition for young deer as a result of decreased competition with adults for resources.

  Al Ivany, a spokesman for the Division of Fish and Wildlife, said Watchung exemplified the effectiveness of the state's deer-management plan, and said the program's benefits were lost in Princeton Township amid all the hype.

  While attorneys and animal activists waged battle in the courts, in the media and even at bait sites at night, several other New Jersey municipalities carried out culling operations of varying degrees in relative quiet.

  According to Susan Martka, lead biologist with the division, the municipalities of Summit, Bridgewater, Bernards, Millburn and Harding obtained permits to bring in hired agents for conventional daylight shotgun culling this year.

  In the case of Harding, the culling permit involved a four-day extension of the shotgun season to allow culling of deer who escaped the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge following the four-day muzzleloader and shotgun season there.

  Last year, the state biologist continued, Mendham Borough obtained a permit to allow two municipal employees to shoot deer. But the effort cost the borough too much in overtime pay and so this year the municipality trimmed deer during the regular hunting seasons.

  In the past, parks in Morris, Essex and Union counties obtained culling permits.

  But that was no longer allowed with the passage of the 2000 state legislation reformulating the permit-issuance rules, which is why the Watchung Reservation now has four municipalities — Berkeley Heights, Scotch Plains, Springfield and Summit — apply on its behalf, Ms. Martka said.

  "That's why we have the program," she said. "It addresses each town's special needs."
  Providing services to many of these culls is a cottage industry that grew out of the Watchung Reservation culls. Hunterdon County-based Deer Management Systems Inc. incorporated in 1999 and contracted out the sharpshooters for the culls in Bridgewater, Bernards, Millburn and Summit, said company co-founder Carl Carvalho.

  Mr. Carvalho, who is retired from the telecommunications industry, and his partner, Don Barwick, a Linden police officer, were sharpshooters in the Watchung cull and started their company at the recommendation of the Division of Fish and Wildlife, Mr. Carvalho said.

  He said the hype surrounding Princeton Township's deer cull has diverted public attention — and perhaps has taken some of the pressure off their fledgling company.

  Mr. Carvalho said that until a viable immunocontraceptive system for the field is developed, he expects business to grow.

  "As the municipalities gain confidence in our safety record, they're getting very confident with our methods. I think it will grow," Mr. Carvalho said. "But they are going very slowly. It's a very emotional issue." Nina Austenberg, director of the Humane Society of the United States' Mid-Atlantic Regional Office, said Princeton Township's poor publicity was not undeserved.

  "I think what's happened is somewhat deserved, the focus on Princeton," Ms. Austenberg said. "New Jersey and the U.S. in general think of Princeton as a cut above. They're not living up to their reputation, not in wildlife. Not in my mind."

  The Humane Society supports culling with sharpshooters as the lesser of evils until a nonlethal solution to deer overpopulation is found, but is "strongly" opposed to captive bolt use on deer in the field, she said.

  Ms. Austenberg said that unlike the township, Mr. Bernier at the Watchung Reservation has in the past sought and continues to seek nonlethal alternatives.

  "If we were able to do immunocontraceptive, they (at Watchung) would be tickled pink," she said. "On their behalf, I think they are trying."

  Princeton Township repeatedly has asserted it is open to nonlethal means but, like Watchung, Princeton officials say none are available.

  Ms. Martka of the Division of Fish and Wildlife said the township might see quieter days in coming years following the Township Committee's recent introduction of an ordinance expanding sports hunting by about three weeks.

  She said the ordinance would permit hunters to trim the deer herd by conventional means, thereby possibly reducing the township's reliance on White Buffalo.

  A public hearing on that ordinance is planned for Monday night.
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