This story is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. Link to story: nj.com/news/2023/02/is-it-time-to-expand-deer-hunting-nj-task-force-puts-deer-population-in-the-spotlight.html
We still don’t know exactly what kind of legislation could result from an exhaustive report courtesy of a new task force of environmentalists—but many signs point to an increase in deer hunting in New Jersey.
Last Wednesday, a group of climate leaders presented a series of recommendations on better managing state forest land during a joint legislative committee hearing in Trenton.
In addition to addressing the issue of tree cutting, accounting for climate change in future forest management, protecting land for indigenous people and many other topics, expanding how the Garden State carries out hunting was discussed.
“We all love Bambi,” said State Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, who convened the task force last February, “but the issue here is the damage they do to our forests, to our health, to our cars, to our mortality.”
Hunting in New Jersey is legal, based on the type of equipment used, between October and mid-February in specified timeframes and with certain limits on the number of animals that can be killed.
More than 36,787 deer were killed in 2021, which is about 18,000 fewer than the previous year, according to figures from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The earliest the tracking dates back to is 1972, when 11,021 deer were killed.
Anjuli Ramos-Busot, state chapter director of the NJ Sierra Club, said Wednesday many parts of public forest land today see “deer density reach 10 times greater than needed to ensure forest regeneration and the survival of native plant species (which deer typically eat).”
Citing AAA figures, the nonprofit New Jersey Farm Bureau noted that more than 30,000 car accidents in the state each year involve deer.
But Susan Russell, a wildlife policy director for the Animal Protection League of NJ, said she viewed some of the recommendations made by the task force as “an effort to monetize wildlife.”
Moreover, Doris Lin, an attorney representing the League of Human Voters of NJ, told the task force: “The sale/donation of venison (which the report recommends) has nothing to do with reducing the deer herd when NJDEP keeps the deer herd artificially abundant for hunters.”
But Smith, who also chairs the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, said the state still needs to take “a new look” at reports of the ongoing problem of high deer populations.
Andy Bennett, a hunter who also co-chairs the task force and is a board member of the NJ Forestry Association, said one problem is that the number of deer hunters each year is “sliding down generationally.”
Allowing hunters to kill more deer also doesn’t solve the issue, Bennett said.
“I don’t know if increasing the number of deer that people can harvest is really going to change anything,” he added. “Somebody like me, I think I could shoot, let’s say, 20 to 30 deer in a year if I wanted to. I don’t want 20 to 30 deer, that’s a lot of meat.”
Bennett pointed to recommendations listed by the task force in the 274-page report.
They include more comprehensively measuring deer densities, considering a pilot program for the commercial sale of venison, exploring “the role of natural predators in deep forests,” providing funds so hunters can help those in need such as food banks, implementing fertility control including sterilization and re-consider guidelines around baiting and feeding.
The DEP, which was involved in conversations to create the report, said that based on available zones there is ample opportunity to hunt deer in the state.
Still, Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the department, added that regarding all the recommendations, “the DEP looks forward to working closely with the legislature and all stakeholders to advance forest conservation strategies and policies that will enhance the ability of forests to mitigate the impacts of climate change, while enhancing the many other functions forests provide that we all cherish.”
The report gathered feedback from more than 600 stakeholders and dozens of non-profits in New Jersey—which is made up of 40 percent forest land. Its recommendations apply to public state land, which is about half of that and is most directly overseen by the DEP.
Public comment on the report will be open for the next three weeks. To view the entire report: njconservation.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/NJ-Forest-Stewardship-Task-Force-Report-Full-Report-with-Appendices-Feb-22-2023.pdf and to hear Wednesday’s meeting: njleg.state.nj.us/archived-media/2022/SEN-meeting-list/media-player?committee=SEN&agendaDate=2023-02-22-11:00:00&agendaType=J&av=A