Deer management is a crucial process in controlling the population of the wild mammal in New Jersey, a number that could well exceed 200,000 this year, according to state officials.
The state issues annual warnings during peak deer mating season that occurs usually from late October through December.
The state estimates there are about 111,000 deer within its boundaries. However, there is a caveat. “The [estimation] is not an accurate number of how many deer are in New Jersey,” according to Dan Roberts, acting project leader for the whitetailed deer research project with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Roberts said the numbers on record are estimated from the 68 deer management hunting zones encompassing 750,000 acres of public — state, federal, county and municipal — land, which do not account for deer in residential areas.
“The number of deer could very well be doubled [in the state],” he said.
Roberts said the State Farm Insurance Agency releases an annual report on deer collisions. New Jersey drivers have a 1 in 234 chance of hitting a deer and ranks 34th across the country in collisions with deer, according the report. “The number of deer killed by motor vehicle strikes [in New Jersey] is estimated at 25,000 to 26,000, according to State Farm, but that number could double with our deer estimate of over 100,000,” he said.
A 29-year-old Manalapan woman died Nov. 25 after her vehicle collided with a deer in Monroe Township, Middlesex County. Police said the car left the road after hitting a deer, struck a tree and rolled over into a ditch.
Counties and municipalities are responsible for removing deer and other animals on roadways under their respective jurisdiction, according to Steve Schapiro, communications director at the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT).
Between January 1 and November 30, 2015, NJDOT crews removed 5,431 deer carcasses from interstate and state highways, he said.
“Last year during the same time period, department crews removed 6,331,” Schapiro said. “NJDOT has removed an average of 6,300 deer carcasses each of the past four fiscal years.”
In the last few fiscal years, NJDOT has spent an average of approximately $233,000 a year to remove deer, he said.
Schapiro said the department’s obligation is to ensure the safety of the state’s highways.
“Our crews make every effort to respond within 48 to 72 hours to remove any deer reported to us,” he said. “We do our best to maintain the safety and beauty of our state highways, but we also rely on help from the general motoring public to alert us directly to locations where they see dead deer, trash, potholes or other maintenance issues.”
Also any New Jersey resident can get a “permit to possess accidentally killed deer” from local area police stations where the deer was struck, whether municipal or state police, Roberts said.
“That is the only legal way to collect a deer struck by motor vehicle from the roadside,” he said. “These deer are not to be reported as hunter-harvested deer.”
In the mid-1990s, the white-tailed deer population reached problematic numbers in numerous suburban communities.
Increased deer-vehicle collisions, damage to ornamental plantings and gardens, damage to agricultural crops and destruction of the natural forest ecosystem are some of the problems associated with high deer populations, according to the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife.
“The deer population in 1995 was estimated at 204,000,” said Lawrence Hajna, press officer for the DEP. “New Jersey has a liberal deer hunting season with efforts to contain the herds. … We have been successful since then.”
According to the New Jersey Audubon Society, deer cause millions of dollars in damage throughout the nation to agricultural crops and landscape plants, in addition to causing motor vehicle collisions.
The society recommends 10 to 20 deer per square mile to protect ecosystem integrity.
Historically, New Jersey’s deer herd has been managed through sport hunting.
Some 50,000 deer, on average, are harvested each hunting season, which begins in September and runs through mid-February, said Roberts.
“The idea is we want to keep areas stable,” he said adding that two-thirds of the state has deer management zones.
Roberts said except for northern and western parts of Hunterdon County and parts of the Pinelands area in southern New Jersey, the deer population has remained relatively stable.
Currently, the DEP is monitoring those areas due to a decline in the deer population.
Annually, the DEP together with the New Jersey Fish and Game Council reviews data and hunting regulations, which range from whether or not more hunting days need to be added in certain zones to bag limits.
Legal deer hunting hours range from a half hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset. Hunters can obtain permits for seasons that include fall bow, permit bow, six-day firearm, shotgun, muzzleloader, and winter bow.
Roberts said all deer are allowed to be hunted, including antlered or antlerless deer. One antlered deer may be taken per season, except two deer may be taken during the six-day firearm season.
All deer must be reported to the state through the Automated Harvest Report system, which replaced the deer check system in 2012.
Roberts said within the last five years he has seen more and more hunters taking to archery and crossbows. This has resulted in several regulation changes.
The changes include the owner or lessee of a building and persons specifically authorized by the owner or lessee in writing may hunt closer than 150 feet from their building. Those authorized to hunt within 150 feet of a building must hunt from an elevated position to shoot down toward the ground.
Also through the Legislature in 2009, deer hunting on Sundays with a bow and arrow on Wildlife Management Areas and on private property is allowed.
The Monmouth County Park System’s Deer Management Program started in 2004. The park system has 17 parks.
“Approximately 500 deer are harvested every year,” said Karen Livingstone, spokeswoman for the park system, noting that they see mostly archery hunting. “Our goal is to keep the herds level and keep some kind of balance.”
In several parks, Livingstone said they shut down the parks for several hours for hunting.
Livingstone said for the most part the Monmouth program follows state regulations; however, in some aspects the county is more stringent.
For example, she said hunters must show a New Jersey hunting license as well as a state-issued safety education card to hunt.
The Middlesex County Office of Parks and Recreation began its Deer Management Program in 2009, which encompasses nearly 3,000 acres of county parkland, according to information provided by Rick Lear, director of the county’s Office of Parks and Recreation.
The numbers of deer harvested has varied over the last three years from 118 during the 2012-13 hunting season, to 172 deer during 2013-14 to 131 last season.
The number of hunting permits issued during the current season dropped to 360 from the 458 issued last season.
“The county uses many different habitat management tools to improve the ecological functions of its parklands so it is difficult to attribute any gains to a single method [of deer management],” Lear said.
However, park staff has noticed reduced deer numbers in many of the open space properties with these anecdotal examples.
In 2014, nesting whippoorwills were noted in the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area after many years of absence; recent years have seen increased flowering of lady-slipper orchids in the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area and the return of fruiting spicebush and sweet pepper bush at Ireland Brook Conservation.
In an effort to limit deer populations in those areas of New Jersey where sport hunting is not considered a viable management tool, the state Division of Fish & Wildlife has permitted alternative methods of controlling deer populations under the Community Based Deer Management Permit (CBDMP) program. The program was created in 1995 to allow alternative methods of deer population control.
Alternative control methods include techniques other than traditional hunting, employed to reduce the deer population. These may include, but need not be limited to, controlled hunting, shooting by an authorized agent, capture and euthanization, capture and removal, and fertility control, according to the Division of Fish & Wildlife.
The program allows townships, counties, airports and county Boards of Agriculture to apply for a permit issued by the division that would allow these alternative control methods. A township resolution endorsing the CBDMP application must be submitted. Individual property owners may not apply for a CBDMP.
For more information about deer management programs and hunting, visit www.njfishandwildlife.com or to report roadside deer carcasses, visit www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/potholeform.shtm or call the same hotline to report potholes at 1-800- POTHOLE.