Sycamore Ave resident organizes protest
Story by John Burton
SHREWSBURY — The increasing deer population in suburban areas is creating hazards on the roads and damage to landscaping.
Fall is mating season for deer – and from September to February, it’s also hunting season here in the two rivers. While the practice is seen as an effective means of controlling the deer population, it’s upsetting to many who live in heavily settled areas where deer hunting appears to pose dangers for humans as well.
One individual who is upset about deer hunting in her hometown is Shrewsbury resident Dolores (Dee Dee) Lichtig, who conducted a protest outside her Sycamore Avenue home last Sunday. “This is happening right next door to my home,” she said, explaining how her immediate neighbor has permitted bowhunters to come on to his property to hunt deer, which Lichtig said is having an impact on her quality of life and is creating a public safety issue.
“This certainly has changed the character of our neighborhood,” she said. Earlier this year the Borough Council voted to endorse a plan that is permitted under state law, allowing the hunting of deer on private property. The council approved the plan following a lengthy public hearing last October when those on both sides of the issue weighed in.
The borough plan adheres to state statute, approved in summer 2010, allowing hunting on private property as long as it is done at least 150 feet from a structure (a previous statute permitted hunting if it occurred within 450 feet of a structure), that the hunting is done only by bow and arrow, and that the hunter is in a tree stand. A representative from the state’s Fish, Game and Wildlife told the council that deer hunting is a state regulated sport permitted on private property, indicating that the borough might have difficulty trying to prohibit it.
Several months later, the council agreed to allow hunting on private property as a means of trying to control the growing deer population in town. The increase has contributed to deer-vehicle collisions and property damage as well as creating health concerns, Police Lieutenant Louis G. Ferraro said.
Lichtig’s protest isn’t about “saving deer,” she explained “This is about hunting in the suburbs.”
“It’s not safe,” she said, adding that the razor-sharp, tipped arrows favored by hunters can travel considerably farther than 150 feet. Lichtig said she witnessed a hunter out on Halloween, as children were traveling the neighborhood trick-or-treating. There is a financial consideration, as well, she said, as having hunting taking place next door could impact her property value.
“Were I to sell my home, it would be up to me, by law, to disclose to the purchaser that there is six months of hunting going on in the yard next door,” she said. “Who’s going to buy my home?” Lichtig had 20 people outside her home on Sunday offering their support in opposition to hunting and is considering what other options may be available to get their message out. Borough officials dispute the safety argument, including Ferraro, who said this week since it started there have been no reports of injuries or issues related to deer hunting, “other than Ms. Lichtig.”
Mayor Donald Burden on Wednesday explained this issue had been the subject of a number of council meetings and it was deemed to be the appropriate action, “for health and safety reasons.” “As a result we’ve had many citizens in town thanking us for the decision that we made,” Burden continued, concluding that the number of local residents who joined Lichtig’s protest was small and the majority of protestors were, “many outsiders from around the state and county who are sympathetic to non-hunting and that seems to be where we’re getting the voice of resistance.”
Susan Predl, principal biologist for the Division of Fish and Wildlife said this week that the state’s deer population isn’t really growing. But what is happening is that as property development continues, “it squeezes (the deer) into smaller and smaller areas. If not open space then to backyards and golf courses and places where you don’t normally see deer.”
Deer tend to remain in a radius of about one-mile from where they were born, so as deer populate in nontraditional areas they aren’t likely to leave of their own accord, Predl explained. Their proliferation does contribute to property damage and motor vehicle accidents. And, like other warm-blooded animals, they can acquire ticks that carry Lyme disease. Predl said she believes hunting is the most effective means of controlling the deer population. “Where hunters have access to the deer they’ve done a really good job in reducing the number,” she said. Other methods, such as trapping and tranquilizing deer, injecting them with contraceptives and then releasing have not worked nearly as well.
Susan Russell, a Fair Haven resident and a wild life policy specialist for Humane Voters of New Jersey, an animal rights advocacy group, joined Lichtig on Sunday, and offered her opinion on the state’s position. Russell alleged that the bill that allowed for increased hunting was promoted by legislators who are supportive—and supported by—hunting business interests and hunting advocacy groups looking to promote the sport which has been on the decline in the state and country (with state agencies offering their support, too, which benefit from the sale of hunting licenses among other things). “Don’t forget this is a business,” she said. Russell also disputes that hunting reduces the population. Hunters, she charged, seek out bucks because they want the trophy, leaving does, who are continually impregnated by the remaining bucks during rutting season. “They skew the sex ratio beyond recognition,” she said.
Russell’s agenda is to work to repeal the 2010 legislation. But in the meantime hunting will continue, as it does in Monmouth County parks. Karen Livingstone, park system public information officer, said the county allowed hunting in 15 parks out of the county’s 38 sites, including Hartshone Woods, Holmdel, Tatum and Thompson parks in the two river area.
The motivation was to preserve the forests’ understory—the young plants—favored by deer, but which its destruction would endanger the nature areas. “We had to maintain forest so the deer could be there as well as the other wildlife,” she said. “We’re trying to strike a balance.”
(The park system allows bowhunting for the season as well as with shotguns and muzzleloading rifles but just for six days a season, but the parks are closed to other visitors when there are guns.)
Last year hunters killed 480 deer in county parks. And as far as human injury, “There have been none in the seven years we have been running the hunt,” Livingstone said.