An Analysis of Deer Management in New Jersey

 

The NJ Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife (Fish and Game) is a state agency that is part of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection. The salaries of Fish and Game employees are paid for by the sale of hunting licenses, and they must sell more than $10,000,000 worth of licenses just to cover their salaries and benefits. This creates a conflict of interest as the state agency that should be protecting wildlife instead profits from their deaths.

The NJ Fish and Game Council is an eleven member quasi-legislative state board that has the power to decide what animals can be hunted, the lengths of the hunting seasons, and how many animals each hunter may kill. All but one member of the Council is a hunter.

 

The NJ Federation of Sportsmen is a hunting organization that holds six of the eleven seats on the NJ Fish and Game Council. From their web site (www.njsfsc.org/):

"The federation has a long history of involvement with wildlife management in the state, and has been working closely with the DFGW (Fish and Game), FGC, (Fish and Game Council) and the MFC (Marine Fisheries Council) all along. It is the semi-official "third leg" of the stool on which responsible management in New Jersey lies. The system has been incredibly successful -- here are just a few examples:

"Our deer management program that is the envy of most of the United States!!!"

This system, hunter control over our state agency and the Council, has been "incredibly successful", but only for those who hunt. Notice how much pride is taken in the fact that they have helped produce such an unnaturally large deer herd.

 

Who is Responsible for the Size of Our Deer Population?


NJ's deer herds have been sculpted by both the NJ Fish and Game Council and the NJ Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife for the sake of recreational hunting. These organizations have deliberately "managed" deer to create the largest population possible. The evidence for this comes directly from their own reports:

"Deer were reestablished in New Jersey by sportsmen-conservationists for the purpose of sport hunting. Since that "restocking period" the responsible agency (now the Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife) has been managing the deer resource for this purpose." An Assessment of Deer Hunting in New Jersey (pg.7)

"Habitat development and maintenance to benefit deer are conducted on 73 state owned Fish and Wildlife management areas totaling over 192,000 acres. Habitat management is encouraged on other public and private lands. Limited burning, wood harvest and planting of various agricultural crops favored by deer can increase the carrying capacity by increasing the quality and quantity of food available." An Assessment of Deer Hunting in New Jersey (pg.10)

"From the mid-1970's through the 1980's, the Division and the Fish and Game Council sought to allow deer numbers to increase within sections of the inner coastal plain including Salem, western Cumberland, Gloucester, northwestern Burlington and western Monmouth counties. By 1990, with the exceptions of Island Beach State Park, a small portion of Cape May County located below the Cape May canal and a few other isolated areas, deer occupied all available range." Governor's Report On Deer Management In New Jersey (pg.5)

 

Biological Carrying Capacity Vs Cultural Carrying Capacity

Biological Carrying Capacity (BCC) and Cultural Carrying Capacity (CCC) are two very important terms that are used when dealing with deer and their habitat. BCC is the number of deer that an area can hold based on the amount of environmental factors present, such as food, water and land. CCC, on the other hand, is a fabricated number based upon no facts, just someone's judgement of what is overpopulation. It is a popular tool used by wildlife managers to get public support for hunting. The truth of the matter is that CCC has no bearing on how many deer can live in an area, and it is therefore not scientifically acceptable to use it to proclaim deer overpopulation. In fact, deer do not naturally overpopulate. Their biological reproduction is based on the amount of food available, and they cannot go beyond the BCC of an area because there will not be enough nutrition for added births.

 

 

The Effect of Deer Hunting


When a large number of deer are removed from a herd through hunting, competition for food, water, space and breeding opportunities is reduced. The herd reacts to the sudden kill with increased breeding, and, with plenty of food to go around, more females become pregnant and twin and triplet births often occur.

In their 1990 report, An Assessment of Deer Hunting in New Jersey, Fish and Game offered a detailed example of this process:

"One of the most dramatic examples of the effect of habitat improvement or food availability on reproductive capacity occurred in the Earle Naval Ammunition Depot in Monmouth County. Range conditions improved in this case by an annual removal of deer by hunting.

Between 1968 and 1973 the reproductive rate almost doubled, an indication that the herd was in much healthier condition. The estimated fawn crop in 1969 was 116 fawns produced by 122 females, a reproductive rate of 0.95 fawns per doe, compared to 1974 when 78 does produced 133 fawns, or 1.70 fawns per doe (Burke et al. 1975)


New York reports similar improvement. In the western area of the state a 1.60 embryo/doe ratio existed in 1939-43. Following antlerless seasons, the reproductive rate increased to 1.90 embryos per doe in 1947-49. In areas where no antlerless seasons were held and the population density remained unchanged, fertility declined." (pg.15)

Fish and Game's report shows that even during hunting seasons in which killing female deer was the objective (anterless seasons), the remaining females had increased birthrates that not only replaced the ones killed, but increased the overall size of the herd.

Another case in point of doe hunting increasing deer populations comes from an article in the "North American Hunter" magazine. The author, a former biologist who worked for the state of Texas, recounts a deer management program he established that removed 100 does from a 3,000 acre ranch.

"After the hunters on the property harvested the recommended 100 does, they figured that would probably be all the does they'd have to harvest for a long, long time. The following year when we conducted the deer survey, there were more deer on the property than the year before. But many of the deer were fawns. After shooting 100 does, the ranch actually had more fawns than it did the year before. Because of the significant doe harvest, the fawn survival rate increased from 25 percent (four does to rear one fawn to weaning age) to 120 percent (1.2 fawns per doe)."

 

 

 

Monmouth Battlefield State Park


In 1990, Fish and Game pushed through an annual deer hunt at Monmouth Battlefield State Park. They said that this was to be a "deer reduction hunt," and that hunting was the only way to reduce the size of the deer herd.

Before hunting was implemented at the park, Fish and Game stated that the population was 200. Other estimates showed the population even lower, at 150. On March 28, 1998, Fish and Game performed an aerial deer census of the park. 254 deer were counted, a 27% increase since the hunts had been initiated.

Monmouth Battlefield is a 'special permit' hunt. This means that in addition to buying a regular hunting license, you must buy a special permit, which is about $20. The special permit system was once even attacked by a hunting columnist, who called it a "money-making scheme".

From 1990 to 1998, 1,300 special hunting permits for Monmouth Battlefield have been issued. This means that Fish and Game has made approx. $26,000. Monmouth Battlefield has become just another cog in Fish and Games' money making machine.

After nine years of hunting, and the killing of 600 deer, hunting failed to reduce the deer herd.

 

Lewis Morris County Park


The Morris County Park Commission used the Washington Valley Area to compare the size of the deer herd in the years before and after the Lewis Morris Park hunts. In 1997, an aerial survey counted 363 deer.

In 1998, after more than 200 deer had been killed, the count was 502, a 38% rise in the deer population.

The Park Commission's own documents also revealed a rise in birth rates after the implementation of hunting. In their 1997-98 report on the hunt, their data showed that the percentage of pregnant females rose 7.4% after the first year of hunting.

 

Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge


In 1974, a hunt was initiated at the Great Swamp Refuge to "reduce the deer herd." Hunters have killed more than 4,000 deer at Great Swamp, and yet the deer herd is larger than ever. When asked has hunting stimulated or made a healthier population, William Koch, Manager of the Great Swamp Refuge, replied, "We have healthier animals, and they have healthier reproduction."

There have been more than 25 years of hunting at the refuge, and no reduction in the size of the deer herd.

 

Princeton


Princeton has had annual bowhunting seasons for decades, but in 1991 they reinstituted a shotgun hunting season, claiming it would reduce the deer population. From 1991 to 1997, 1,052 deer were killed. Before the shotgun season began, it was stated that the deer population was at 800.

After a thousand deer were killed in just 7 years, the stated size of the deer population for 1998 was 1,200, a 50% rise in the size of the deer population.

 

 

Lyme Disease


There are those who know the power of fear, and prey upon it to further their own agenda. This is the sad reality of what has happened with the issue of Lyme disease. The truth is that deer are not the cause of this disease, and killing them will not make anyone safer. Lyme disease is a reason to be watchful for ticks on your body, not a reason to kill deer.

At the Aug. 5, 1993 Assembly Environment Committee, James Blumenstock, Director of New Jersey Consumer Health Services, spoke about Lyme disease. The following is a basic summary of his main points:

There is no significant relationship between deer management, specifically population control efforts, and the level of deer ticks and the incidence of Lyme disease for the following reasons:

1. Nymphs, (a stage of the tick) which are responsible for most of the cases, get their blood meals on the white footed mouse, not the deer.


2. Adult ticks will adapt if you reduce or remove deer from the area, they will seek alternative hosts.


3. Environmental/ecological control efforts should be the focus in reducing tick populations. Control the disease vector, rather than the host.

Another important fact about Lyme disease comes from an article in Consumers Reports:

"Killing deer has been suggested as a way to attack Lyme disease. But experts say such action is premature and dangerous. Deprived of their usual hosts, infected adult ticks become a more immediate nuisance, as happened when deer on an island off Massachusetts were virtually exterminated. Wandering ticks threatened the populace as they searched for new hosts." (Consumers Reports June, 1988)

If the slaughter of nearly every deer made matters worse, then using hunting to reduce the occurrence of Lyme disease is unwise and dangerous.

 

 

Car/Deer Collisions


Hunting, far from being a deterrent for collisions, is a cause of them. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, most car/deer collisions happen during hunting season. It is not difficult to understand why hunting in the woods would send deer out onto the roads, in a panic.

The relationship between hunting and car/deer collisions was pointed out by the co-owner of M&S Removal, a state contractor that removes deer carcasses from roadways: "Many deer run onto roadways this time of year because 'hunters are scaring them out of the woods.'" (Asbury Park Press, Dec 14, 1997)

In an article relating a serious car/deer collision, which occurred on the opening day of the 1998 shotgun hunting season, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection said "the presence of hunters in the woods puts animals, including deer and bear, on the run and often causes them to leave wooded areas." (Trenton Times, Dec. 8, 1998)

Former Fish and Game Director Robert McDowell wrote the following in a letter sent to a Morris County official, on 8/7/93:

"The actual impact of deer-auto collisions has been greatly exaggerated. Specifically, individuals routinely multiply the estimated number of deer-vehicle accidents times an average damage estimate. This approach is invalid, because approximately half of all deer vehicle collisions do not involve any damage...Deer-vehicle collisions seldom result in personal injury."

The Erie Insurance Group, Pennsylvania's second largest auto insurer, studied the effect that hunting has on car/deer collisions. They discovered that not only did accidents increase during hunting season, but they increased by five times on the opening day of doe and buck seasons.

A proven way to reduce the number of car/deer collisions is by the use of roadside reflectors. These devices create a barrier when light from headlights bounce off them, keeping deer off the roads. One such device, Strieter-Lite, has been tested for years and has been proven to reduce car/deer collisions from 60% to 100%.

 

 

Deer and Native Plant Species

One argument used by those who want hunting is that deer eat native species of plants. In many areas throughout the country, exotic species of plants are overwhelming their native competition. This happens because exotic vegetation often have faster growth rates than natives, are more resilient to disease, and have no natural insect perdator.

The removal of deer will not make the native species any better equipped for competition with the introduced species. In fact, since deer eat native and non-native species, they can actually help stop the spread of introduced species. A study in American Forests confirms this.

"A concerned landowner in northwestern Pennsylvania contacted us this summer and asked that we visit a large area that had been cut and fenced two years earlier. The fence had been effective. The area was lush with tree regeneration, but closer inspection revealed that without the deer, the area had been converted to pure pin cherry. An aggressive competitor that few native species can beat. Deer browsing helps keep its numbers under control." (Nov/Dec. 1993)

At a symposium held in Morristown in Aug. of 1994, dealing with this issue, it was stated that even if every deer were killed in our state, it would not bring back the native species of plants. The only real solution is the removal of the introduced species. This problem is completely caused by man, and deer should not blamed for it.

 

 

Land Conservation and the Non-Hunting Public

One of the great myths told about land conservation is that hunters buy land with their hunting license fees. It is a fact that since 1961, no hunting license fees have bought any land what so ever.

It was in 1961 that a deal was made that Wildlife Management Area (WMA) land would be bought through the Green Acres fund, which is a taxpayer funded bond issue . Green Acres was supposed to be used to save our land for the benefit of all, but instead WMA's are managed purely for hunter recreation. These lands are stocked with Pheasants and Quail for hunting, food is planted for game species, trees are clear cut and the habitat changed from its original ecosystems to a new layout solely for the purpose of creating more animals for hunters to kill.

A tiny percentage of land is bought through the Duck Stamp Program. The money that is raised through the sale of these stamps is used to buy land. This is another program that the hunting community claims that it fully funds. However, in an article that appeared 12-01-91, in the NJ Star-Ledger, Robert McDowell stated that 75% of the stamps are purchased by non-hunters for stamp collections. Once again, its the overwhelming number of non-hunters who are buying land, not hunters.

 

Wounding and Crippling of Deer

All forms of hunting result in wounded and crippled animals. Details supporting this can be found in An Assessment of Deer Hunting in New Jersey:

"Associated with harvests of big game animals is a loss of animals which are not recovered by hunters. The words "crippling" and "wounding" have often been used in reference to deer which recover or die and are not retrieved after being shot legally by firearm or bowhunters."

"Langenau (1986) found that archery deer hunters were estimated to have retrieved 43% of the deer hit by arrows, while shotgun hunters retrieved 81% of the deer hit."

In the 1998-99 deer hunting season, shotgun hunters killed 29,189 deer. Taking the 19% wounding rate into account, an additional 5,546 deer were shot and left to die in the woods.

In this same year, bowhunters killed 20,975 deer. The 57% wounding rate for hunting with bow and arrow means that another 11,956 deer were shot and wounded.

Most of these 17,500 wounded animals died slow painful deaths. Some made their ways to roads where they were hit by cars. Others, no longer capable of feeding themselves starved. Those that survived were permanently crippled.

 

 

"Sharpshooters"

There are a number of communities that have employed hunters to kill deer in their town. These hired guns are often referred to as "sharpshooters". The concept of Sharpshooting is a misnomer, and used more as a public relations concern than in being a true statement. In actuality, there is no sharpshooting involved, just the baiting and killing of deer.

The Watchung Reservation in Union County, the first community to use "sharpshooters", reported a 10% wounding rate by these hunters during their first year of killing.

The 'sharpshooters' were sitting in tree stands shooting down at tame deer over bait sites, and still wounded 10% of the animals.

Sharpshooting, like all other forms of hunting, is cruel, inaccurate, and only leads to increases in the deer populations that it supposedly seeks to reduce.

 

 

The Killing of Predators


On one hand, Fish and Game claims deer hunting is necessary because there are no natural predators, yet with the other hand they collect the fees from the licenses sold to kill the natural predators. New Jersey's coyotes, like deer, have been targeted for recreational killing. NJ has both hunting and trapping season for this natural predator. One of the reasons they are being killed is that many hunters see coyotes as competitors for deer.

Coyotes' effectiveness as predators was stated by Robert Eisele, one of the top coyote hunters in NJ: "Coyotes have been tearing up the deer population down here," Eisele said. "You hardly see any fawns anymore. They don't eradicate them all, but they keep the population in check." (Bergen Record, Feb. 16, 1999)


...

 

In the past 100 years, Fish and Game has allowed the killing of more than 1,300,000 deer, 600,000 in the last decade alone, yet the population is larger than ever. If this is the end result of deer management through killing, then killing is not effective in reducing deer populations.

Deer are trying to survive in a world that we created for them. They are, and have always been, victims of those who take recreation in killing, and those who profit from that recreation.

 

 

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