As a concerned citizen of Essex County, I support deer culling in our reservations and urge that it be continued. I am disturbed that the County is now considering stopping its deer management program in the South Mountain, Eagle Rock, and Hilltop Reservations.
Several years of controlled hunts in our reservations have reduced the overall number of deer, but it is not enough -- our natural parks are still being over-browsed and we cannot stop reducing the herd for even one year. Continued deer culling is urgently needed to not only save the forest, but reduce proliferation of Lyme disease, collisions with cars, erosion due to lack of vegetation, and stress on remaining deer.
I agree with wildlife biologists, deer management experts and forest ecologists on the need to bring deer densities down below 10 per square mile in order to allow our forests to regenerate and restore their ecological balance. Current deer populations still average more than 4 times that number. Without additional culling the forest understory will continue to be stripped, and we will lose not only the forest but more of the many birds, insects and other animals who depend on a healthy and diverse ecosystem.
Too often, County officials hear only the strident minority opposing any feasible method to manage the deer population. I am a member of the usually less vocal majority who cherishes our reservations and believes controlled hunts are critical if our forests and ecosystems are to regenerate and thrive for the enjoyment of future generations.
As a concerned citizen of Essex County, I applaud the controlled deer hunt by the County over the last five years and strongly urge its continuation on an annual basis to promote the restoration of the aging forest. I am disturbed that the County is now considering stopping these programs.
Even after several years of culling, the reservations in Essex County are still being over-browsed by extremely high populations of white tailed deer that are destroying the understory plants, the saplings which are the future of the forest. By next winter, the population densities are estimated to be an unbelievable 264 deer per square mile in the Hilltop Reservation, and a still unsustainable 39 in the South Mountain Reservation (where culling has been ongoing longest) and 34 at Eagle Rock. I agree with wildlife biologists, deer management experts and forest ecologists on the need to bring the density down below ten per square mile over several years to allow the forest to regenerate and create a balanced, diverse ecological system. This is urgently needed to not only save the forest, but reduce collisions with cars, proliferation of Lyme disease, erosion due to a lack of vegetation, and the stress on the remaining deer.
Controlled hunting is the only logistically and economically feasible way to reduce the population quickly in these large, unbounded tracts. Immuno-contraception requires tracking, sedating, and injecting more than 80 percent of all female deer multiple times over their lifespans to be effective. Even if logistically feasible, this would cost far more than the roughly $130K currently expended each year for the culling program using volunteer sharpshooters.
The County and State have invested over $1 million in a 20-year forest regeneration program to spur the growth of native plants and deter invasive plant species. Without ongoing culling, these investments and all progress to date will be in jeopardy. At South Mountain, new plants are just beginning to emerge. If the County stops hunting for even one year, the deer population can surge by as much as 40 percent. Nor should the County reduce the number of days. At Hilltop earlier this year, the final two of seven days of hunting reduced the population by 22 -- three times the total number of deer that should be there.
For these reasons, I support the recommendation of the Conservancies for four afternoons of controlled hunting each at South Mountain and Eagle Rock and seven full days at Hilltop. Without this level of effort, the forest understory will continue to be stripped, and we will lose not only the forest but more of the many birds, insects and other animals who depend on it and which contribute to a healthy and diverse ecosystem.
Too often, County officials hear only the strident minority opposing any feasible method to manage the deer population. I am a member of the generally less vocal majority who cherishes the three reservations and believes controlled hunts are critical if their forests and ecosystems are to be restored and thrive for the enjoyment of future generations.