Too many deer in NJ — maybe hunting isn’t the answer, advocates say
Even animal advocates can admit there are too many deer roaming the Garden State.
But experts are divided on the best way to manage overpopulation.
"There are so many non-lethal, comprehensive approaches," Brian Hackett, legislative affairs manager for Animal Legal Defense Fund, told New Jersey lawmakers.
Hackett noted that less than one half of 1% of New Jersey's population holds a hunting license. In turn, shooting deer can't be the only solution to controlling the animal.
"Just simply expanding hunting seasons, expanding hunting zones, increasing depredation permits, increasing baiting — that will do nothing to fix the problem. And in some instances, I respectfully submit that it would make the problem worse," Hackett said.
The Assembly Agriculture and Food Security Committee used a portion of its meeting on Monday to discuss the deer population and the effectiveness of current deer management policies. A bipartisan measure introduced in June would, among other moves, expand the hunting capabilities of land owners and lessees.
A report released in March out of Rutgers University recorded a loss of $1.3 million caused by white-tailed deer in one year, for just 27 farmers in New Jersey. According to the New Jersey Farm Bureau, deer density recently measured at 60 to 239 deer per square mile in certain parts of the state — densities of 10 to 15 deer per square mile are considered healthy.
"In large part, not being able to manage effectively in public open spaces .... is contributing to this," said Joseph Paulin, co-author of the Rutgers report.
About 25,000 deer are killed each year in deer-vehicle collisions, and even more are taken during regulated hunting, but the population continues to grow, Paulin said.
Non-lethal approaches such as increased fencing and the sterilization of deer have been suggested as possible solutions, but both are considered to be costly. Former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak told the legislative panel that deer management by surgical sterilization has significantly reduced local populations in a handful of states.