NYT: Deer Hunt Goes Ahead After Years of Protest

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NYT: Deer Hunt Goes Ahead After Years of Protest

Postby mergs » Fri Jun 06, 2008 12:38 pm

This is not exactly new news but its good to have this article here for reference.

source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/15/nyregion/15deer.html

February 15, 2008
Deer Hunt Goes Ahead After Years of Protest

WEST ORANGE, N.J. — The hunters gathered on Thursday at the glow of dawn on the icy slopes of South Mountain Reservation in Essex County. By sunrise, the thermometer had risen to 27 degrees and they were 30 feet up in tree stands, camouflaged and waiting.

Ranging in age from mid-30s to late 60s, the eight volunteer marksmen included a firefighter, two police officers, construction contractors and retirees. They would be rewarded, after eight half-day tours culling the overpopulated herd, with 40 pounds of venison apiece.

The hungry white-tailed deer had been baited with corn kernels.

“We’ve taken the sport out of it,�? said Daniel J. Bernier, a wildlife consultant and park planner in adjacent Union County, which has been systematically thinning the ranks of deer for more than a decade, to about 150 from 580. “This is about efficiency.�?

Thursday’s hunt was the fifth of nine organized hunts over five weeks in a 2,047-acre park that was laid out by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, where county officials say that proliferating deer have endangered drivers and, as elsewhere in state parks, wounded the ecosystem. The unusual ring of gunfire in such a densely populated pocket of high-end suburbia is the first organized herd-culling in an Essex County park, and has spurred controversy among animal lovers and homeowners.

“No one wants to come out and say, ‘Kill Bambi,’ �? said Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr., the Essex County executive. “It is an emotional issue for everyone, including me. I am not a hunter. I don’t own a gun — I hate guns. But this is the only humane way.�?

There are about 2.1 million acres of forestland in New Jersey, 46 percent of the state’s total land area, according to Edward A. Lempicki, chief of the state’s forest service, who said that multiplying herds of white-tailed deer “have been very devastating in New Jersey, damaging the understory and the newly established seedlings in our forestland.�? Estimates of their number, statewide, range from 150,000 to more than twice that.

Hunting has long been allowed on about 90 percent of state land, but only recently have deer culls spread to county and municipal forests, especially in populous locales, where political will — and community consensus — have been difficult to come by. Besides Union County, the organized culls have taken place in Millburn, among other locales, and the private 2,700-acre Duke Farms in Hillsborough, N.J.

Here at South Mountain Reservation, assent was required from Essex County and three communities whose land forms the park: Maplewood, Millburn and West Orange. The cull is supported by the New Jersey Audubon Society and the South Mountain Conservancy, a local volunteer group that works in the reservation, which is known locally for its Turtle Back Zoo and Richard J. Codey Arena ice rink.

But to Carol Rivielle, a retired schoolteacher who has been fighting plans for the cull for eight years, it is “a barbaric slaughter of our animals.�? Mrs. Rivielle’s 135-member group, Save Our Wildlife, has protested twice at the reservation since January as “a voice for the deer that have no voice,�? she said. “It is sickening, the thought of these beautiful deer being hunted down in this way.�?

Citing aerial surveys estimating that there are 100 to some 200 deer in the reservation, Mrs. Rivielle said that “they are on the road to wiping out the deer in South Mountain Reservation.�?

But Mr. DiVincenzo said the aerial surveys undercounted deer congregated in groups, and that the park’s animal consultants put the census between 300 and 500. The goal of the cull is to kill 200 deer; as of Thursday, the fifth day, the marksmen had felled 155.

Instead of killing animals, Mrs. Rivielle said, the county should install more roadside reflectors to deter deer and try experimental contraception that will soon be on the market. But Mr. DiVincenzo said that road reflectors were unreliable, and that the county had tried to trap and transfer deer but “they died on the way, and that was very inhumane.�? As for deer contraception, he said, it is too expensive and “doesn’t work here because this is an uncontrolled, free-ranging population.�?

“I think we’ll have to continue this every year until we can reduce the problem,�? he added.

Last year, the county picked up 303 deer carcasses on county roads (no tally for those collected on municipal roads was available), at a cost to taxpayers of $70 per deer, or a total of $21,210.

“Is it more humane for deer to starve to death, or be hit by cars?�? asked Emile DeVito, manager of science and stewardship at the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

The hunts are so controversial, Mr. DeVito said, that he has received nasty phone calls, his vehicle door locks have been glued and his car spray-painted with the words “Bambi Killer.�? Mr. DiVincenzo, too, said he has been bombarded with nasty phone calls, letters and e-mail messages. “I have gotten death threats,�? he said.

Mr. Bernier, the Union County park manager, recruited the entire team of 15 marksmen for the South Mountain program, which ends on Feb. 28 and will cost about $45,000, including overtime payments for police and other workers. The hunters use single-barreled shotguns fitted with telescopic sights to fire slugs, aiming straight down to reduce the danger from errant shots; every shot is logged.

One marksman, a 54-year-old house painter from Jersey City who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was concerned about harassment by animal-rights advocates, said, “It’s the best way for this to be done, by people who are qualified to do it well.�? Like the other marksmen, he paid for his ammunition and equipment and estimated that his 40 pounds of venison will cost him $300.

“You want to hit the animal with a clear humane shot, and not have the deer go off anywhere,�? said another hunter, a 42-year-old police officer who also requested anonymity. Asked why he had just spent four hours indecently high in a tulip tree, alert and trying not to move, he said: “I love to hunt. And I’m good at it.�?

The bloody aftermath of the shooting was grisly enough so that the county’s check station, where the felled deer were taken to be counted, weighed and examined for a continuing scientific study, was off limits to news photographers.

After county officials inspected the deer, collecting information about age, sex and weight, they were butchered and distributed for the most part to more than 40 soup kitchens and food pantries through the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.

On hunting days, the park has been closed to the public. “There hasn’t been one incident, or danger to the citizenry,�? Mr. DiVincenzo said.

Tricia Zimic, a resident of Maplewood for 14 years, said that she has seen dead deer and that her neighbor “heard a gunshot and saw a deer that was wounded,�? which, she acknowledged, “is not great P.R.�? But Ms. Zimic said she is in favor of the cull “because if we don’t do something we won’t have anything left in the reservation except a couple of dead trees and a deer park.�?

“I am an animal lover, but I am more of a nature lover,�? she added. “I feel our reservation is out of balance — and it’s dying.�?

Mr. DeVito, the conservationist, said that deer overpopulation has reduced the shade level in South Mountain, giving impetus to invasive plants such as Japanese stilt grass and thorny, impenetrable Japanese barberry. Mammals, birds, insects and wildflowers have disappeared after being taken for granted by generations of locals.

“We hope that it’s not too late for South Mountain to recover,�? said Mr. DiVincenzo, the Essex County executive. “We have a lot of work to bring it back.�?
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