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Park Service Deer Management Plan Praised, Criticized

Morristown National Historical Park is studying deer herd and invasive plant management options at Jockey Hollow.

The release of the draft white deer and vegetation management plan for Morristown National Historical Park generated more than 1,000 comments that both praised and condemned the plan.  

The National Park Service a three-year program to design a , the historical Revolutionary War encampment, to control the size of the white tail deer herd and restore the health of the forest. Two public meetings on the topic in July attracted 50 visitors and the  subsequent comment period drew 159 pieces of correspondence from which were drawn 1,060 comments.  

Most comments came from individuals not affiliated with a special interest group or government, and 85 percent of the comments came from New Jersey residents. Overall, 41 comments opposed vegetation management; 16 supported it; 20 opposed non-lethal methods of reducing the deer herd, while 28 supported non-lethal methods; eight comments supported lethal methods of deer removal in general, while 10 comments opposed hunting within the park; and 10 questioned the effectiveness of hunting. Twelve comments questioned the consultation methods and those performing the consultation. 

The park service said it is undertaking the study to address a growing deer herd averaging 60 animals per square mile that is causing damage to Jockey Hollow’s ecosystem, and to develop a plan to remove invasive plants. A second public comment period will be conducted following the release of the draft deer and vegetation management plan/environmental impact statement, scheduled for spring 2013.  

“We are trying to achieve a long-term plan," said Park Service naturalist Robert Masson. “We are seeking younger-age forest. Existing trees will die and fall or suffer storm damage.”  

Invasive plants affect the ability of the native plants to thrive as well, Masson said. "That is a concern. We are not satisfied with the state of the younger vegetation." 

Comments fell into several broad categories: Deer are damaging the understory and the landscape; deer are prohibiting native forest regeneration; there is a large deer population within the park; deer, not short sighted management policy, are causing overpopulation and subsequent habitat destruction in the park.

Some commenters feel the National Park Service should use humane, non-lethal methods for managing deer, which could include development of a fertility control program, such as the use of GonaCon, as well as education for motorists to minimize collisions with deer. Some commenters feel that non-lethal deer management methods are ineffective, including fencing, trap and transport, surgical sterilization and other reproduction controls.

Sample comments:

"The immunocontraception Gonacon can be used when addressing the white tail deer population. This contraception has been tested in Maryland as well as in New Jersey and has been proven to be both safe and effective.”

"With non-lethal and effective mitigation measures such as driver education, reduced speed limits, improved fencing, lining the roads with vegetation the is unpalatable to deer and using roadside reflectors to deter deer from crossing roads, many communities are actually reducing the number of deer vehicle collisions without relying on the ‘shoot first’ mind set.”

“Also essential is the removal of the barberry bushes, wild mustard, and multiflora rose, and other nonnative plant species by whatever method is considered practical. Those programs have worked in neighboring Lewis Morris Park and I expect that they will work in Jockey Hollow Park also.”

"The Morristown National Historical Park Vegetation and White-tailed Deer Management Plan needs to move forward as quickly as possible. As a resident of Morristown living near Fort Nonsense I see the impact of the large deer population every day. I understand that this plan will not cover the Fort Nonsense area but any reduction in the deer population in the area will have a positive impact on the surrounding area. There are so many deer in the area that they regularly walk down the street I live on and eat everything in sight."

The report is available here.

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