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Essex County Lethal Deer Policy is Failing - It's Time for Change

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Please SIGN and SHARE this petition to stop unnecessary and ineffective deer killing in Essex County Parks.

Above photo:  Local deer, as nature intended

The 2019 hunt: South Mountain: Tuesdays, January 15, 22, 29; February 5, 19 & 26. Make up date: March 5.  Hilltop: Thursdays, January 17, 24, 31; February 7, 14, & 21. Make up dates: February 28 and March 1.


Tied to an agency riddled with incompetence and corruption, captive to the industries it is supposed to regulate, New Jersey’s mismanagement of its deer has failed the non- hunting public. It’s time for modern and humane solutions desired by voters.

Bad calls

As forewarned by national and state animal protection organizations, Essex County has nothing to show for eleven years of intensive killing, unethical and ecologically damaging baiting, the expenditure of at least $1.6 million in public grants and $90,000-100,000 annually to mount bait and shoots.  

Privatizing Essex County’s Reservations

Since 2008, at the behest of a few strident, pro-kill activists at South Mountain and Hilltop Conservancies, Essex County has baited and killed over 2000 whitetail deer at South Mountain, Hilltop, and Eagle Rock Reservations.[1]  Because the lethal program isn’t working, the activists clamored for even more killing in 2019, citing a goal of a mere 5 deer per square mile.  The county cannot continue to give zealotry free rein over publicly- owned local wildlife and land.  In every aspect but funding --the public still foots the bill -- Essex County's reservations have been privatized.  

Belittling residents who disagree and excluding the broader county public, a handful of individuals fixated on killing deer has been allowed to drive Essex County’s lethal policy, its expenditure of $1.6 million in taxpayer moneys for forest regeneration that doesn’t materialize, and the annual expenditure of $90,000- $100,000 to implement a bait and shoot that is ineffective and futile. That’s a lot of hubris, a lot of money, and a lot of bad calls.  It is an inexcusable amount of animal suffering.

"Success"': Not working?  Kill more deer

From year to year, no matter the consequences ---a wounded deer impaled on a fence, another eaten alive by a dog, yet another run down in the streets, the forest's failure to produce changes hunt activists vowed would "dramatically" materialize (some of those changes may or may not be related to deer) ---activists browbeat the County to cover its tracks and kill more deer. Now, they say,  twenty or forty years of killing might suffice. No one knows. (Similar projects began nearly 50 year ago.) The County annually declares the kills a  "success."  

Humane and Effective Policy Sidelined by Conservation Politics

Presuming that population reduction was necessary – in many cases it is not—had some form of fertility control, which can reduce the herd in 5-10 years,[2] been implemented in 2008, and had the leaders of the conservancies not promoted hunting with unbecoming zeal, Essex County would be well on its way to humanely limiting the deer at South Mountain.[3]  Instead, because the annual shooting stimulates reproduction, the county, its residents, and its deer face a grim future of perpetual violence and cruelty—with little or no regenerative results.   

The depth of antagonism, or hate, toward an animal that leads to energetic promotion of killing based on such weak arguments eludes us.  As shown by surveys, the majority of New Jersey residents are compassionate. For most, the choice between a dart and a shotgun is a no-brainer.

Piling On

The conservation vogue of hating and scapegoating deer, applying glib, boilerplate generalities to virtually all situations, and citing “potential” damage to obtain hunts is meeting justifiable resistance from some of our best institutions. According to Yale University studies (2010), deer density is not a leading factor in determining variation in vegetation impacts across western Connecticut: "The empirical basis for presumptions that white-tailed deer cause forest regeneration failure is limited."[4]  Both species diversity and richness can be higher outside of plots that exclude deer; smaller canopy trees can benefit from deer browsing.

Likewise, the biological effects of deer on urban vegetation can be exaggerated by self-interests based on which species of animal and tree they want to shoot, see, or log in designer forests.

According to researchers in Wisconsin, the number of deer that a community wants is a community decision. There is no biologically correct number: “The biological carrying capacity of many of our urban areas can be over 100 deer per square mile.” Urban deer will stabilize. In cases where hunting has not been allowed, local populations likely already are stable.

Course Correction

  • First, stop the killing and baiting.
  • De-privatize the process; the reservations do not belong to two or three activists and their chosen political advisors, including go-to consultants brought in to recommend hunts.
  • Bring in national and state animal protection organizations and biologists independent of the state hunting agency and its industry-Audubon partners.
  • Assess the current state of South Mountain’s beleaguered herd and the impact of random killing and baiting on social groups, behavior, and breeding.  
  • Finally, conduct independent assessments of forest health that address the full range of factors affecting the reservations.

Barriers to Nonlethal Solutions

Researchers have identified the entrenched hunting culture at state wildlife management agencies partnered with arms and archery makers as the single greatest barrier to the use of non-lethal solutions.  The increasingly lethal New Jersey Audubon Society, partner with the Division of Fish and Wildlife and, with the division, co-leader  of New Jersey Teaming with Wildlife, a coalition whose national steering committee is dominated by firearms, ammunition, and archery manufacturers, trade associations, and wildlife regulatory agencies, widely advocates the killing of deer (and mute swans, and geese).

Unelected game officials seeking suburban hunts for their clients and fellow hunters continue to deny New Jersey townships non-lethal options used in other states with measurable success.   In jokey, artfully dishonest presentations that continue to elude state reprimand, the same official, Division of Fish and Wildlife employee Carol Stanko, feeds decision makers patent falsehoods, among the most astonishing:  countering, peer-reviewed studies do not exist (transcript); opponents would have the state trap and transfer deer (on tape,  APLNJ and LOHVNJ oppose trap and transfer) and other untruths. 

When Hunts Fail, Kill More Deer

Killing forest deer is a conservation fad that often fades under independent scrutiny.  Oswald Schmitz, Ph.D.,the forest ecologist and director of Yale University’s Institute for Biospheric Studies, refuted the claimed “need” to kill deer in Rock Creek Park, Maryland:

“[t]he National Park Service’s reliance on this study to conclude in its EIS that the ‘[r]esults of vegetation monitoring in recent years have documented adverse effects of the large herd size on forest regeneration,’ is patently overstated.'

” “[t]he study shows the opposite: that deer eat tree seedlings in the Park, but that this particular reduction in the number of tree seedlings has no measurable effect on forest regeneration.” SavetheRockCreekParkDeer

Under suburban and backyard bow and shooting regimes, introduced hunting triggers eventual irruptive growth. Effectively stable pre-hunt populations and reproductive rates were often lower than post- hunt claimed “success” levels.   Promised forest regeneration fails to materialize. The stock response is not to change course, but to kill more deer – with the same resul


Boasting of “designing” the expensive Essex forest regeneration [and hunting]  program and of “leading” county officials, neither Dennis Percher, chair of the South Mountain Conservancy, nor Theresa Trapp, Hilltop’s treasurer, appears to possess an employment or academic background in wildlife, biology, or forestry. A self-styled consultant for many permanent deer hunts, Essex County hunt designer Daniel Bernier, a Union County employee and manager of that county’s perpetual deer kills, appears to have no academic background in biology, forestry, or wildlife. 

The conservancies’ antagonism toward deer extends to the nonlethal solutions desired by many residents. On March 18, Ms. Trapp told the public that GonaCon, single-dose contraceptive, costs "$3,000 plus for deer." USDA stipulates "several hundred" – not thousands – of dollars.

See:  https://patch.com/new-jersey/caldwells/letter-deer-contraceptives-it-s-about-the-politics-and-science 


Editor’s note: With fifteen acres of managed grassland, three acres of upland habitat, and only five forested acres, Hilltop Reservation attracts and supports more, not fewer, deer in an urban neighborhood already saturated with edge.


The moral challenge that wildlife immunocontraception poses to the culture of use is, in our view, the only possible explanation for the extraordinary antipathy wildlife immunocontraception has generated in state wildlife agencies and the hunting community. . .

But the antipathy is unmistakable. Almost every attempt to get a state permit to conduct an immunocontraception field study on deer has exploded into a titanic political battle, with the state agencies often leading (or goading) the opposition.

Recommended Citation

Kirkpatrick, J.F., & Rutberg, A.T. (2001). Fertility control in animals. In D.J. Salem & A.N. Rowan (Eds.), The State of the Animals 2001 (pp.183-198). Washington, DC: Humane Society Press.


“Community-based Deer Management” hunts, some approaching their fourth decade, are technical failures that result in resurgent deer, frequently rising auto collisions, increased effort and expense to kill fewer deer, significant property-taxpayer expense, and, not least, de facto management of local properties and parks to sustain perennial sport hunt opportunities.

Headlines in Princeton, which has been killing deer since 1985, telegraph failure:  “Princeton readying lethal force to deer overpopulation (2018);” "PRINCETON: Township hires hunters to thin the deer population” (2016); “Township Introduces bow hunting ” (2003).

Thirty-two years of killing by bows, shotguns, bolt guns to the skulls of netted deer,[5] and sharpshooting—yield perpetual slaughter. “'We can’t use contraceptives [which the town tried early, and briefly] said a local official, 'the state has too many barriers for that.'” Bow hunting, said politicians, did not work. Princeton is still killing the animals, and property taxpayers are still footing the bill. In 2016, a Connecticut-based deer management company received a no-bid contract capped at $64,530 to supplement sport hunting required by the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Princeton’s aborted fertility control program ran from 2003 to 2006, when the state erected  barriers. Contractor White Buffalo darted and captured every female in a designated area, injected each with contraceptives, and saw “significant population decline.” Effectively shutting down future fertility control programs, the Division of Fish and Wildlife re-interpreted Community-based Deer Management regulations to require municipalities obtain written permission from all landowners within 2000 feet of the darting. No other state requires this.


[Limited cost summary below][6]

Year     Total cost      Deer killed    Fetuses

2012     $102,176.13        175               99

2011     $111,268.98        187              152

2010     $98,739.17         160               92

2009     $87,797.00          83                53

2008     $81,802.39         213               147

The annual kill and considerable taxpayer costs are permanent. When “dramatic” forest recovery promised by South Mountain Conservancy’s Dennis Percher did not materialize, the conservancies intractable response was not to change course, but to insist on more killing. The county hesitated, then gave in.


The conservancies’ deer advisors are the usual suspects: The New Jersey Audubon Society, and the Nature Conservancy, the latter the subject of a Washington Post series on greenwashing. Land management policies aggressively pursued by these organizations create more deer. Partnered with powerful shooting interests, both cleave to industry talking points against nonlethal deer management.

Power Sharing: Arms, ammunition, and equipment manufactures seek public funding primarily to subsidize habitat development for hunted species,client recruitment, and “enhanced” hunting experiences.  Mutual management agreements mean that habitat management for non-hunted species must also benefit hunted species,or, more aptly, the hunters who shoot them, and even though dozens of federal studies show that hunting is the primary source of disturbance for birds. To obtain funding, the manufacturers collaborated with their historic allies, state and national Audubon societies.  The New Jersey Audubon Society co-leads, with the Division of Fish and Wildlife, the state chapter of the industry/agency-dominated coalition.

Aside from partnering with the Division of Fish and Wildlife, the state hunting agency, the New Jersey Audubon Society works and lobbies in concert with  a hunting/trapping/ animal -use PAC called the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance. It  also attends meetings of  the Legislature’s hunting caucus, which the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses ( firearms holding companies)  cites as a working partner. 

Deals arranged nationally to promote commercial logging, early succession, and forest fragmentation primarily for game species are foisted upon the states.  The New Jersey Audubon Society’s and the Division of Fish and Wildlife's aggressive promotion of commercial logging and forest fragmentation has met fierce resistance from the public and from most environmental groups in New Jersey.   The rub: in   addition to other, negative impacts, fragmentation and logging create ideal breeding range for whitetail deer. 




Green Mafia Strikes Again – Chapters 27 & 28 http://www.wolfenotes.com/2016/03/green-mafia-strikes-again-chapters-27-28/



“Private, closed, insular, & self-interested model of management”; “Absurd & inappropriate for public lands management”

“… the “Stakeholder” list – …amounts to a like minded group of similarly financially self-interested friends” —Wolfenotes, February 18th, 2016


"Don’t blame deer. They now may be off the hook as the main vectors of the infectious disease.

"Instead, most scientists and publications point to the expected overpopulation of white-footed mice this year as the reason Lyme disease incidence is likely to surge in southwestern Pennsylvania and throughout the Northeast. So you might be tempted to blame mice — that is, until you realize the full story."

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: What's to blame for the surge in Lyme disease? (Mar 28, 2017)[1]

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and kill advocates claim that killing deer is necessary for the “prevention of Lyme disease.”

The leading disease ecologists in the United States say no, it isn’t. The white-footed mouse, and abundant acorn crops, are the major drivers of a recent uptick in infections.  There are some surprises:  The humble opossum is an “unsung hero” in the battle against infection, as are foxes and other small predators who break the cycle of infection.  Antiquated Division of Fish and Wildlife regulations encourage fur trapping (and, in the case of foxes, bow hunting) of these beneficial animals.

TICK PROJECT (The Cary Institute is one of the largest ecological programs in the world. The Institute’s Tick Project is testing environmental interventions to prevent Lyme and other tick-borne diseases in our communities. Project partners are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bard College, the New York State Department of Health, and the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health.)

Dr. Rick Ostfeld, senior scientist, Cary Institute: “It's commonly believed that Lyme disease risk is tied to the presence of deer ticks and white-tailed deer. But this simply isn't correct.” (“Have Deer Gotten a False Rap for Lyme? “)

In the New York Times, Ostfeld noted:

Indeed, several recent studies (e.g., Jordan and Schulze, 2005; Ostfeld et al., 2006; Jordan et al., 2007 — see citations below) on mainland sites in New York and New Jersey found no correlation between deer and ticks

  • When deer are scarce, ticks don’t necessarily become scarce, because they have alternative hosts.
  • Ticks are only dangerous if they are infected, and deer play no role in infecting ticks.
  • The carrier most likely to bring Lyme-infected ticks into contact with human beings is not the white-tailed deer, but the white-footed mouse.
  • When deer are scarce, ticks don’t necessarily become scarce, because they have alternative hosts.
  • Early tests that erroneously linked tick populations to deer density were flawed, said Dr. Ostfeld, because they were “conducted on an isolated island. [I]n the real world, there are dozens of other species that serve as host to ticks – including chipmunks, mice and birds.

Harvard School of Public Health:  

 “Killing deer is not the answer to reducing Lyme Disease, says HSPH scientist”  The tick that transmits Lyme disease is called the deer [blacklegged]  tick. The adult tick takes a blood meal from deer, lays eggs and then dies. In Crane Beach [in Ipswich, MA], where I conducted my study, people thought that if they killed deer they would reduce the number of ticks. Deer were reduced [from around 400 in 1983 to just over 100 in 1991], but Lyme disease kept growing. The question was why? We killed deer but people still got Lyme disease.

Yale School of Public Health, Evaluation of Deer-Targeted Interventions on Lyme Disease Incidence in Connecticut  (US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health):

“The deer hunt analysis did not show a clear decreasing trend in EM rash incidence in the original treatment area (Figure 3). The mean incidence rate was not significantly different before and after treatment (U=32.5, p=0.432).” Neither the mean relative rate between the original treatment area and original control area, nor the mean relative rate between the original treatment area and expanded control towns was significantly different before and after treatment (Table 2). doi:  [10.1177/003335491112600321]

PMCID: PMC3072871;PMID: 21553675, Evaluation of Deer-Targeted Interventions on Lyme Disease Incidence in Connecticut, Jennifer M. Garnett, MPH, Neeta P. Connally, PhD, Kirby C. Stafford, III, PhD, and Matthew L. Cartter, MD, MPH

[1] This number includes “unborn” deer
[2] A project in San Jose, California, was so “successful” that townsfolk undertook measures to ensure migration. See: http://www.iacis.org/iis/2017/2_iis_2017_158-170.pdf . This paper also debunks a Cornell sterilization project that contained several “anomalies.”: "The published study reported “a 38% and 79% decrease of total adult females and fawns visible in sampled photographs, respectively, and an 873% increase in adult male visitation to camera traps” (Boulanger & Curtis, 2016,
p. 727). The data for sampled photographs include repeat visits of the same deer. Male visitations in the first year were only 4% of the total, for a buck to doe ratio of about one to eight. The sex of fawns and many deer in the photographs could not be determined. In a suburban herd the buck to doe ratio is typically about two to three. The 873% increase was just enough to bring the buck to doe ratio back to its normal level. There is no explanation in the paper for the incredibly low starting number of bucks. Although the paper concludes that the experiment failed
because the population remained approximately the same, the number of deer seen in sampled photographs actually decreased by 32% (Boulanger & Curtis, 2016, p 732).The conclusion that the deer population was not reduced by the experiment is based on analysis of the photographic data using the software NOREMARK (White, 1996). While no population estimates were provided for adult males,
the population estimates for adult females show an increase over the study (Boulanger & Curtis, 2016, p 732), in contrast to the 38% decrease in total females from sampled photographs. Total population estimates later presented
by the researchers appear to show that the total population trend was about the same but a little higher than the female population based on the software estimate, suggesting little effect from adult males on the total population trend
estimate (Boulanger & Curtis, 2017). There is a dramatic difference in the population trends based on the photographic data and the software interpretation, yet both results are used to selectively draw conclusions."  (  By way of explanation, Cornell is home to the Human Dimensions Research Unit, whose mission on behalf of industry, state hunting agencies, and agricultural interests is to improve public attitudes toward hunting, trapping, and other wildlife-use activities and to gain hunter access to private and public land.   The Unit  has intensively studied related community-based suburban hunts, hunter recreuitment, the political processes required to obtain the hunts, and the necessary make-up local wildlife committees.
[3]Localities that do not allow killing use fencing, landscaping,message boards, and other techniques. Assessing the extent of baiting and feeding is essential.
[4] Regional-Scale Assessment of Deer Impacts on Vegetation Within Western Connecticut, USA,ANGELA C. RUTHERFORD and OSWALD J. SCHMITZ, The Journal of Wildlife Management Vol. 74, No. 6 (August 2010), pp. 1257-1263
[5] "Dropping nets over deer at feeding stations, and then trying to stun them with a captive bolt gun, which requires the gun to be held to the forehead of a struggling, kicking animal, is bound to be inhumane," said Princeton University ethics Professor Peter Singer. https://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2018/02/princeton_prepares_response_to_deer_overpopulation.html
[6] http://www.deerfriendly.com/deer/new-jersey/new-jersey-deer-management/essex-county-cost-of-county-deer-hunt-tabulated-at-102   Essex County: Cost of county deer hunt tabulated at $102,000( April 19, 2012 New Jersey, NorthJersey.com)  
[7] Rather than challenge the powerful industry-government association (gun, ammunition, and archery manufacturers—"nature related businesses" — commingled with state wildlife regulators) that controls wildlife policy, contracts, and grants, collaborating conservation groups exuberantly pursue the systematic killing of deer, even in our backyards. Commercial partners who caused artificial abundance profit from de-regulation and increased hunter access to private and public land. The trade has identified both as necessary for sharply declining client retention and recruitment.