Friday, November 19, 2010
BY SCOTT FALLON
WEST MILFORD — A high fence recently erected by the state's biggest land
preservation organization to keep deer out of a nature preserve is drawing
criticism from another environmental group that says it's too restrictive. But
supporters say the fence built this fall around a 300-acre section of the
Apshawa Tract near Butler Reservoir is essential to restoring a forest that has
been virtually eaten away by thousands of deer.
"The forest has experienced a lot of destruction," said Emile DeVito, a staff
biologist for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. "It's at the beginning
stages of a tipping point."
The Pequannock River Coalition said not enough study had gone into the fence's
impact. It could harm other animals, including black bears who forage and
hibernate in the preserve.
"To lose 300 acres to a fence, I don't know if we can afford that," said Ross
Kushner, head of the group. "It's almost as if you're taking it out of the open
The entire Apshawa Tract is 600 acres, of which part is owned by the foundation
and the other by Passaic County.
Several professors of biological science at local colleges, responding to the
criticism, issued a statement defending the fence. Areas of the forest that have
been overgrazed by deer, they write, have lost native plant species and been
"subsequently replaced by alien plants that meet little or no habitat needs for
native species. As a result, hundreds of common species of plants and animals
are declining across the entire New Jersey Highlands landscape."
The professors argue that if no management steps are taken, "native species will
lose out to invasive species as they already have all across the older suburbs
and heavily agricultural areas of northeastern New Jersey."
The fence, which is being funded by a $125,000 grant from the National Forest
Foundation, was approved by the Passaic County freeholders in late August after
it was presented earlier in the month to a subcommittee. No one spoke against it
at either meeting, said Keith Furlong, a county spokesman.
The state Green Acres Program, which partially funded the acquisition of the
preserve in 1974, also approved the fence after reviewing the plan.
The fence is 16,800 feet long, 8 feet high and resembles "vinyl-coated chicken
wire," DeVito said. Eight gates will be constructed around the park near access
trails for public use.
DeVito said the fence is the largest of its kind in North Jersey. A smaller
fence at the Watchung Reservation proved successful in keeping deer out and
bringing back native vegetation.
"If we put up a tiny fence, we have seen we can have recovery," DeVito said.
The recovery at Apshawa is a long-term process with results not expected for 10
to 15 years. DeVito said he expects bears to break through the fence, which will
be maintained by staff and volunteers. He said smaller animals will be able to
go under or climb above it via trees.
But Kushner doesn't think that will happen with animals using different areas of
a forest in different seasons, a key to their survival.
He also questioned where the deer would go now that they are barred from 300
undeveloped acres. Deer are becoming a problem in suburban areas. More than 50
deer were killed in a controversial hunt earlier in the year at Garret Mountain
Reservation and Rifle Camp Park in Woodland Park.
"That complexity seems to have been missed here," he said. "Restricting the
movement of wildlife with a fence can be deadly for them."
A "deer drive" is scheduled for Dec. 5, when the fence should be complete,
DeVito said. Volunteers will line up and walk in different directions, forcing
deer out of the area.
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