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NY Times: pro NJ deer hunt article needs responses

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  • Pat Scala
    Submit letters to: letters@nytimes.com Send copies of your letters to Essex County, NJ Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr.:
    Message 1 of 1 , May 4, 2008
      Submit letters to: <mailto:letters@...> letters@...

      Send copies of your letters to Essex County, NJ Executive Joseph N.
      DiVincenzo Jr.:

      <mailto:joedi@...> joedi@...

      FAX: (F) 973-621-6343



      May 4, 2008

      On the Ground, Counting Deer


      MILLBURN [New Jersey]

      DARKNESS was falling and people were settling down in their homes for the
      night when Susan Predl, who was just starting her workday, drove her van
      into the wilds of the South Mountain Reservation here.

      In the van were an assistant, Amy Schweitzer, and some important tools - two
      powerful spotlights, a laser range finder and a notebook for jotting down
      observations. Ms. Predl, a senior biologist with the
      ns/newjersey/index.html?inline=nyt-geo> New Jersey Department of
      Environmental Protection, was about to count deer.

      The 2,047-acre reservation, spread through Millburn, Maplewood and West
      Orange and owned by Essex County, had been overrun by deer for years. Last
      year the county authorized its first hunt organized to cull the herd, and
      over nine days in January and February sharpshooters stationed in trees
      killed 213 deer. The controlled hunt in this densely populated area has
      spurred controversy among residents and people who consider hunting cruel,
      who have urged the county to find other ways to control the deer population.

      But now, weeks later, in the relative calm after the hunts, it was Ms.
      Predl's task to estimate the number of deer remaining and help the county
      formulate plans for next year.

      This was actually her seventh run this season at formulating a census, using
      a method called distance sampling. During six previous trips, Ms. Predl and
      an assistant had scanned the woods with spotlights and spotted from 19 to 40
      deer, at various distances from the van. Feeding the numbers into a software
      program, Ms. Predl calculated the reservation's current deer density at 29
      to 35 deer a square mile. The night's results would prove comparable,
      showing that the South Mountain Reservation still had too many deer. And
      this was taken a month before the surviving females would start giving

      Ms. Predl's rides through the quiet reservation - off limits to humans after
      dusk - provided a quiet counterpoint to the noise of the protests and hunts.

      For years, antihunt forces staged demonstrations urging officials to find
      nonlethal alternatives to thinning the population. Sometimes, they hired
      lawyers to make their point. The county listened and experimented with a
      number of costly options, including an effort to trap the animals and ship
      them out of state.

      One such project involved sending the deer to a farm in upstate New York,
      but the "farm" turned out to be a slaughterhouse, and embarrassed officials
      halted transports. The deer, meanwhile, multiplied, in this, one of the last
      open areas of a congested county.

      In September 2007 Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr., the county executive, finally
      announced there would be a hunt. "I don't like hunting at all, but in this
      situation there's no alternative," he said. Protesters demonstrated on
      Northfield Avenue in West Orange, holding signs saying, "Please don't turn
      South Mountain into the killing fields." But when the hunt actually started
      on Jan. 29, it drew only a handful of demonstrators.

      "It's a tough emotional issue, but the majority of people realize something
      has to be done," Ms. Predl said before starting her final inspection trip.
      "I think what helped Millburn officials make their decision was a woman
      suffering terribly from Lyme disease." The disease is caused by bacteria
      that are spread by tiny, infected deer ticks.

      Counting deer is an imprecise science, and yet so much rides on the results,
      namely whether and where the county authorizes future hunts. On April 2,
      Essex County conducted an aerial survey by a helicopter with thermal
      infrared sensors. That method is expensive, but some believe it yields the
      most accurate count.

      Ms. Predl isn't sure. "There really isn't a preferred method of estimating
      the deer populations out there," she said.

      By day New Jersey's white-tailed deer are nearly impossible to spot, given
      their excellent camouflage of brown and gray. At night though, caught in the
      glare of a three-million-candlepower spotlight in a forest still bare of
      leaves, it's a different story.

      "When you shine the spotlights, their eyes almost glow back," said Ms.
      Predl, a 25-year veteran of the Fish and Wildlife Division. "In the dark
      you'll see pairs of eyes looking back at you. Up here, besides the deer,
      we've seen a lot of raccoons and red fox here. One night I think I saw a
      coyote and a screech owl. Each animal has eyes that glow a slightly
      different color. It's kind of amazing and fun."

      For two-and-a-half hours she drove the van through the deserted park at
      about 10 miles per hour, holding a spotlight out the driver's window with
      her left hand and steering with her right. Ms. Schweitzer, a state wildlife
      technician, held the second spotlight out the passenger-side window.

      "There's our first Bambi, no, wait, there are three of them," said Ms.
      Schweitzer, picking up the greenish glow of three pairs of eyes 60 yards

      So it went, over rutted roads near long-neglected picnic groves and
      campgrounds, and on busy perimeter roads like South Orange Avenue. There, as
      speeding cars and a
      sey_transit/index.html?inline=nyt-org> New Jersey Transit bus whooshed by,
      Ms. Predl put on her hazard lights and drove while Ms. Schweitzer peered
      into the woods. The van posed a strange sight. Some drivers slowed down to
      gawk. "Are you all right?" one asked.

      At the end of the night Ms. Predl headed for home, in Warren County, eager
      to tabulate her findings.

      Essex County officials plan another hunt, and have embarked on a program to
      restore South Mountain's ravaged understory with plants and build "deer
      exclusion areas."

      The reservation will never be entirely clear of deer, nor should it be, said
      Dan Bernier, a Union County parks official who is a consultant for Essex.
      Union County has used hunts to thin deer from its largest park, the Watchung
      Reservation, since 1999 and estimates it now has 20 deer a square mile,
      close to the ideal number, he said.

      "You know you're where you want to be, when you get it down to a point where
      people can grow tulips and tomato plants, and you don't end up with a lot of
      deer carcasses on the road," Mr. Bernier said. "We're also seeing the
      beginnings of a recovery in the reservation. Shrubs have begun to leaf out
      in the area four feet or lower from the ground."

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