Deer management programs are becoming increasingly popular in local municipalities and townships and there’s a reason for it — they’re cost effective and they work.
Each program has slightly different objectives, but the problem remains the same — the deer are overpopulated and causing negative effects on their surroundings, whether it’s destruction of the forest understory, destroyed landscaping, an increase in deer/vehicle collisions or the spread of Lyme disease.
Officials in Bernards Township, New Jersey instituted a municipal deer culling program more than 10 years ago. Bernards was one of the first townships to take an active approach to manage the deer population by implementing the culling program and the results speak for themselves.
During the first year of the program in 2000-01 there were 289 vehicle crashes involving deer in the township. Fast forward to the 2011-12 season, and a record low of 89 deer/vehicle collisions were recorded — that’s a decrease of nearly 70% since the program took effect.
The results don’t happen over night, but a consistent management program like New Jersey’s can have positive results over time. Here is the breakdown of deer/vehicle collisions by year since the program began: 2000-01, 289; 2001-02, 258; 2002-03, 243; 2003-04, 223; 2004-05, 196; 2005-06, 147; 2006-07, 94; 2007-08, 131; 2008-009, 102; 2009-10, 108; 2010-11, 128; and 20011-12, 89.
One difference with New Jersey’s program is that the township only allows hunters from two clubs to hunt on the 35 municipal and Somerset County-owned lands. This is similar to a program the Audubon Society runs on their property in Greenwich, CT where they only allow one local hunt club to manage the property (I know this program worked well because I hunt across the street and the number of deer on the property I hunt has dropped considerably).
What also makes this program different and successful is that hunters are not limited to archery equipment and can also use shotguns. I’m an avid bowhunter and can tell you its possible to decrease a deer herd with bowhunting, but if you want to decrease the population at a faster pace, adding shotguns can triple your effective range.
During 2002 the township estimated its deer population at 89 deer per square mile and through aerial surveys has seen the population decrease to 46 deer per square mile (while its different in each area, 20 deer per square mile seems to be what the land can support in these Northeast suburbs).
Bernards Township reports expenses for last year’s program at $20,747, and with the two clubs taking 357 deer out of the population that averages out to $58 per deer — that’s probably about as cost effective as you can get for a management program that works. Hats off to the Bernards Township for recognizing their local deer issue and doing something about it. Both the town and deer will be better off.