CRANBURY – Township committee members agreed to allow white-tailed deer hunting on five municipal-owned properties this week.
The 3-0 vote Monday night is the township’s solution to control the growing deer population that they say can have negative effects on the environment.
“With the information available and the facts available and knowing that our job is to protect the public and to protect our farmers, we’re making the best possible decision we can at this time,” said Deputy Mayor Daniel Mulligan on Wednesday.
Mulligan along with committee members Michael Ferrante and Matthew Scott approved the deer-hunting ordinance. Mayor James Taylor and Committeeman Glenn Johnson were not at the meeting.
The regulation allows deer hunting at the properties known as Fischer, Frosztega, Updike, Hagerty Tree farm, which are preserved farmlands, and the Reinhart Preserve.
Hunting would follow state regulations and laws. It is restricted to only bow use on designated tree stumps. Hunters would also have to receive a permit from Cranbury, which is restricted for use at one site only during the season.
Scott, who is the liaison to the Environmental Commission, said the expectation is 15 hunting permits would be issued based on conversations with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“We will have permitting, we will have our police involved, [and] we will have a whole plan in place as to the guidelines,” Scott said on Wednesday. “We will meet, if not exceed the state requirements for managing our new deer policy that we’ve put in place.”
Township officials have supported the bill, saying that expanding hunting to specific municipal-owned lands will help to curtail the rising deer population.
Committee members said the deer population is harming crop production, residential areas, poses a public safety risk for drivers, and can carry and spread tickborne illnesses, such as Lyme disease, as reasons for approving hunting.
Though the ordinance was met with some resistance from community members and non-residents on Monday, those efforts did not change the outcome but were respected.
“There were definitely some voices at our last committee meeting … people were very emotional and upset and I really do appreciate that,” Scott said. “I’ve got two dogs, one is a rescue, and eight chickens. I’m not someone who is anti-animal in any regard. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to do this, but I want to do what’s best for the town, what’s best for the health of our forest, and what’s best for the safety of our residents. In my mind, it was something that I felt needed to be done and I think it’s going to be successful.”
Concerned attendees asked about using a sterilization method instead of hunting, officials said, but believe based on prior studies that would not work.
“There were things asked about sterilization of deer and other things along those lines. And there’s plenty of studies out here, there’s a Cornell [University] study actually, which says that they actually don’t work and they’re very costly,” said Mulligan. “You’re talking around $1,500 per deer to sterilize them. And that’s with no real understanding if they’re going to even stay within your town borders. So really the most effective means is to cull the herds in place in town and control them. That’s the only way we can do it right now.”
Officials have said that prior to the start of the hunting season they would start an information campaign so residents are aware.
“It’s not my ideal solution, but from what I’ve read from the papers provided that the DEP referenced that we looked at there’s no good easy solution,” Scott said. “Contraception doesn’t seem to really work on a free-roaming animal population. Obviously, it’s not things we’re super, super happy about, but it’s a thing that I think needs to be done.”
The full deer management ordinance is available online, though, officials said that tweaks may be made in the future.