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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Middlesex County began its 2016-2017 white-tailed deer-hunting season on November 19.
This will be followed by a six-day hunt on from December 5-10, and will conclude with a "winter bow hunt" on January 1, 2017.
The county-authorized hunting is part the government's "Deer Management Program," which is run in conjunction with the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Division and spans 3,000 acres of land in Middlesex County.
In 2009, the County's Office of Parks and Recreation began the program. The Director of Parks and Recreation, Rick Lear, notes that the white-tailed deer population was estimated to be 111,250 in 2010.
During the 2015-2016 Middlesex County hunting season, 136 deer were killed.
According to Lear's department, deer hunting is a means to combat overpopulation in several areas including the Forest, Jamesburg Park Conservation Area, Cedar Brook Natural Area, and Van Dyke Farm.
Lear sites the New Jersey non-for profit conservation organization, the NJ Audubon Society, which recommends 10-20 deer per square mile.
While hunting is a management method endorsed by the pro-hunting New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife, alternative non-lethal methods are often overlooked.
“If hunting worked, we wouldn’t have a deer problem,” said Angi Metler, the director of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey. Metler has been involved in deer hunting issues since 1983.
Metler notes that within New Jersey, it is required by law to provide hunting opportunities. However, she contends that scientific research has proven that hunting does not reduce deer fertility, but actually raises it.
Deer are self-regulating species, which means their fertility is directly linked to their habitat and food supply.
When a hunt occurs, deer travel 30% beyond their normal range, their food supply doubles, and survivors reproduce.
According to University of Wisconsin College of Natural Resources, the life span of wild white-tailed deer is typically from 6-14 years of age.
However, deer are so severely hunted in New Jersey that many do not live that long.
“Once hunting starts, towns become entangled in the perpetual killing of deer, recreational or otherwise,” states the League of Humane Voters of New Jersey (LOHVNJ). "The killing leads to higher reproduction, a changed age structure, and [sets] in motion a cascade of events."
The LOHVNJ supports non-lethal, alternative solutions, which directly targets the issue of high fertility, without harming or endangering the species.
They contend that surgical sterilization is a highly effective method in controlling deer fertility, one that is gradually being implemented across the country.
“In the absence of hunting, birth rates decline," reads a statement on deer ecology on the LOHVNJ website, which cites research first published in 1961. "In areas where managers halt habitat development, the result is fewer deer. White‐tailed deer on poorer range showed ovulation rates 67% of those attained by deer on good range.”