The Union County Department of Parks and Community Renewal has released details of its annual Deer Management Program, which for the first time will tackle the problem of deer overpopulation in Lenape Park.
On the first day of the hunt, which began Jan. 9, eight hunters have already removed 22 white-tailed deer from the county park. This program will continue next week on Wednesday, Jan. 18, due to the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.
Since 1995, marksmen in the County of Union’s state-approved deer management program have reduced the population of white-tailed deer in the Watchung Reservation substantially. Last year, that effort was expanded to remove deer from portions of Passaic River Park in Summit.
Union County has received complaints about deer-related impacts from residents around Lenape Park for several years. The Cranford Environmental Commission, the Cranford Tree Advisory Board and the Hanson Park Conservancy have all expressed concern for damage to and loss of landscape vegetation and a fear of Lyme disease. Browsing for food by large numbers of deer has caused a loss of forest understory, especially in Lenape Park and Nomahegan Park, and threatens the survival of the plant and animal communities that are important to the ecology of these parks.
In 2009, the township of Cranford asked that the county investigate the extent of deer overpopulation in Lenape Park and take the appropriate steps to reduce the deer herd. Forest ecologists recommend a density of 20 deer per square mile in a healthy hardwood forest and as low as five per square mile in a forest that has been heavily damaged by browsing. Spotlight counts conducted by the county in April of 2010 and April of 2011 showed deer densities in excess of 300 per square mile. An analysis completed by the county two weeks ago shows that roads bordering Lenape and Nomahegan Parks had some of the highest numbers of deer-car collisions in the county over the past year.
Lenape Park covers 403 acres, or about 0.63 square mile, in the townships of Cranford, Springfield and Union, the borough of Kenilworth and the town of Westfield. During this initial effort, it is hoped that 125 deer will be removed from Lenape Park.
Hunting in Lenape Park will occur on the five Mondays from Jan. 9 to Feb. 6. In the event of inclement weather on a Monday, the hunting activity may be moved to Wednesday that week. Hunters will be in the park from 5 a.m. until after dark, but shooting may only occur during daylight hours.
Ten volunteer marksmen have already been chosen by the county from among the most experienced participants in past years of the Watchung Reservation deer management program. The licensed hunters will be wearing orange hats or vests and will hunt the deer from elevated positions, at least 20 feet up in the trees, over baited sites.
The hunters may keep any deer carcasses that they harvest. All other deer will be processed at a USDA-approved butcher. Venison will be distributed to the needy and homeless through the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.
Anyone found hunting on any Union County park property outside the terms of this program will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Citizens observing any such illegal activity are urged to immediately contact the Union County Police at 908-654-9800.
The public should note that Lenape Park will not be closed during the deer management program. However, park patrons are urged to stay on the paved paths and to keep pets restrained on a leash.
The Union County Department of Parks and Community Renewal will distribute information about this deer-management program to households surrounding Lenape Park. For further information, contact the Union County Department of Parks and Community Renewal at (908) 789-3682, or visit the Union County website at ucnj.org.