The Borough Council Wednesday approved a change in the local deer management ordinance that will allow bow hunting on certain borough-owned lands, and ban the feeding of deer.
Mayor Sylvia Petillo said the ordinance is a start to address the out of control problem of deer herd management in the borough.
Nearly everyday, she said, a resident tells her about a car-deer collision or that their dog has contracted Lyme disease. The ordinance puts in place two important efforts, Petillo said, deer-herd management and public education.
“It’s not just about accidents,” Petillo said. “It is also a health issue caused by the over population.”
To reinforce the point, Councilwoman Estelle Klein left the meeting after she was informed that her husband was involved in a car-deer incident. No information was immediately available on the incident.
Two state wildlife biologists were on hand Wednesday to provide background on the scope of the problem and to explain state hunting laws.
The regular public meeting also attracted about 30 residents, many of whom spoke in favor of reducing the size of the deer herd, but raised concerns about the safety of the potential hunt, who would be allowed to hunt under the new rules, and the proximity of the potential hunting sites to their homes.
Carole Stanko, a wildlife biologist with the Division of Fish and Wildlife, said in 2009 there were 40 car-deer accidents in Hopatcong, and in 2011, 93.
She said the accidents were concentrated along the roads on the west side of Lake Hopatcong. Deer are “an edge species,” she said, which means they live between grasslands and forests in places like golf courses, meadows and residential areas.
She said the damage that deer do to plants and landscaping is also a key reason for allowing the hunt. Deer can eat plants up to six feet from the count–a zone called the browse line–and cause great damage. An adult deer will eat between two and seven pounds of food per 100 pounds of its weight, Stanko said.
“That’s a lot of hosta,” she said.
She said the danger of many deer living in human residential communities is that the animals lose their fear of humans, and deer, when threatened, or in the middle of rutting season, can be dangerous.
Stanko said humans need to stop feeding deer. The feed attracts other animals and birds, can spoil and cause illnesses in the deer herd, and, if the wrong feed is put out at the wrong time of the year, it can kill the deer.
“The deer do very well on their own,” she said.
She said New Jersey has recorded the fifth highest number of Lyme disease cases, and in 2009 and 2010, Sussex County had the second highest total in the state.
Cindy Kuenstner, also a state wildlife biologist, said that hunting is one of the safest recreational activities in the state.
In 2011 with over 4 million hunting days in New Jersey, a number determined by the number of hunters times the number of days when hunting is allowed, there were only nine hunting accidents statewide and none in Sussex County, she said.
In Hopatcong, only curved bows and cross bows will be allowed under the new ordinance, she said. Typically bow hunters try to shoot from a distance of 20 to 30 yards.
A new state law says a bow hunter can hunt within 150 feet of a building.
That rule, concerns about trespassing on private property, and wounded deer entering non-hunting parcels were among residents' key concerns.
Veterinarian Shelli Skeels raised many of the concerns that vexed residents of the Elba Point and Wildwood Shores areas of the borough, which are heavily populated by deer and, as a result, the areas of the highest levels of car-deer accidents.
A key concern, Skeels said, was the 150-foot distance that bow hunters would be allowed. The lots in her neighborhood are close together and contain many buildings and 150 feet is not enough room for safety. In addition, she said, the deer herd is very familiar to all in the neighborhood, so familiar, she said, “That can tell you all their names.”
Another key concern is the possibility that hunters would wander into their yards, or that a wounded deer would enter the yard, followed by the hunter, she said.
Kuenstner said discussion among neighbors and with the hunters given borough permits would settle many of the residents’ questions.
She said their private property can be posted to warn hunters and agreements could be reached with their neighbors about how to handle such issues.
Those issues are not addressed in the borough’s ordinance because the borough cannot control hunting on private property. How to address the issues on their own property is up to the property owners, Kuenstner said.
The ordinance will only allow bow hunting on certain borough properties, according to a schedule based on the state hunting season for the areas. Councilman Michael Francis said the ordinance provides a framework in which the deer management task force will operate. The task force will review the potential borough lands that would be open for hunting and prepare recommendations to the council in October. The task force will also meet with the hunters seeking permits.
Any task force action must be approved by the borough council, he said.
Borough permits would be needed to hunt, and no rifles or shot guns would be permitted. All bow hunting will be done from a platform that will force the hunter to shoot down on any target deer.
The ordinance says that the borough’s deer management task force would inform the council about June 15 of each year whether a hunt is needed, and the areas where it should take place.
The ordinance sets out rules for the use of deer fencing, and bans the feeding of deer on public or private lands of less than five acres. A fine of $100 would be imposed.