By Alan Caruba
There’s hunting deer and there’s killing deer. Hunting is an ancient pastime and one enjoyed by both men and women in areas more congenial to it than the 2,047 acres of the South Mountain reservation near where I and several thousand suburbanites live. Most of us have never hunted anything other than a parking spot close to the mall entrance.
The reservation is shared by four New Jersey communities with some of the most highly prized homes in the State. Maplewood, South Orange, Millburn, and West Orange all border and include parts of it. The reservation has always had a population of white-tailed deer. Indeed, they are ubiquitous throughout the State. However, lacking any predators, their numbers have reached a point where they are literally destroying the vast wooded area, a watershed for the county.
As wildlife experts explain it, the “maximum biological carrying capacity of the reservation is roughly 20 deer per square mile, or about 68 for the entire 3.4 square miles of the area it occupies. At this point, after a decade of dithering, there are an estimated 300 to 400 deer.
Overseen by the South Mountain Conservancy, the deer have defeated years of planting seedlings to maintain the forest growth. It is worth keeping in mind that the forest area is home to other wildlife as well.
Starting January 29, for a five-week period, the entire reservation will be closed to the public for two days each week while fifteen sharpshooters, in the words of the local newspaper, “attempt to shoot as many deer as possible” from 20-foot tell stands during the daylight hours. That’s not hunting. That’s killing.
It is also an excellent example of how Mother Nature works and how utterly merciless and neutral she is. The culling of the deep population is vital and necessary to protect this ancient stand of trees and other undergrowth, but it has been occasioned by the sustained objections of “animal lovers” who refused to admit the entire reservation is being destroyed by the deer.
The irony here is that the real “environmentalists” will be the hunters.
All of the hunters will have demonstrated five years experience, have a valid New Jersey Firearm Hunting License and a Firearm Purchaser Identification Card.
As a child, I spent many a happy afternoon in the reservation with a couple of friends. I could walk to it from my home. I used to imagine that Lenni Lenapi Indians were hiding behind the trees. None of them had to get permission from the State to hunt. There was no State. The sheer numbers of the deer would have astonished them.
The best way to get a feel for the numbers would have been to drive into the part of Maplewood that borders the reservation around 2 A.M. in the morning. You would discover that you had to slow down to avoid hitting a small herd of them making their way across the street and on to the perfectly manicured lawns of homeowners. Ever so casually, the deer would make way for you, totally unafraid of the car with its headlights.
The deer are quite beautiful. Too bad there are so many of them.