213 deer killed during NJ culling

March 5, 2008 5:47:06 AM PST

Volunteer marksmen shot 213 of an estimated 300 to 400 white-tail deer in South Mountain Reservation, a 2,000-acre preserve that borders hundreds of high-priced homes in a crowded section of the nation's most densely populated state.

"This was a huge success," said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., adding that the county plans to continue the hunt for years to come. "There are hundreds and hundreds of deer still up there ... You just can't do it in one year."

DiVincenzo said the goal is to reduce the deer population - previously estimated by county officials to be between 300 to 400 - down to about 60 deer through annual hunts.

The hunt started Jan. 29 and was held on most Tuesdays and Thursdays through Feb. 28. It was designed to cull white-tailed deer, which reproduce quickly and have become a problem for many New Jersey communities because they ravage vegetation, cause traffic accidents and carry ticks that spread Lyme disease.

Many animal rights activists and some residents criticized the hunt, saying it was dangerous to be shooting near populated areas and that the county should try other options to control the deer population, such as birth control.

"It seems a little barbaric to be shooting guns relatively close to a populated area. The fact that no one got hurt doesn't change my opinion," said South Orange resident Ann Leenay.

DiVincenzo said he would meet soon with the animal rights activists to discuss the hunt results with them.

Hunters fired 250 shots to kill the 213 deer, said Dan Bernier, a consultant who has managed a similar hunt in Union County's Watchung Reservation and was hired by Essex County to help manage this one.

Of the deer killed, 88 were pregnant females - some with twins or triplets - that would have eventually given birth to 147 young deer, Bernier said. "That's a lot of deer that would have been running around here," Bernier said.

Most of the meat was donated to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, where it would provide over 30,000 meals to the needy and homeless people, officials said.

Hunters who logged a certain number of hours were allowed to take 40 pounds of meat.