In many of Monmouth County's parks, deer hunting is an exercise in deer management.
The hunting program was initiated in 2004, when Monmouth County experienced a booming population of white-tailed deer that was proven to threaten forestation in the county. The Monmouth County Parks System recognizes hunting as a means to control deer population, and therefore control the rate of deforestation in county parks.
"We are not out there hunting just because we want to, we are rally seriously trying to manage the deer population," said Karen Livingstone, Public Information Officer for the Monmouth County Parks System.
Deforestation is visible at about a four-foot height, or the maximum height at which a deer can reach to graze. Many shrubs at grazing height are small and young, and as older shrubs and shoots die off new ones never find the chance to regrow.
According to the Deer Management annual report, "a total of 490 deer were harvested at the fifteen park areas open during the 2011/2012 season," 54 percent of which were female.
Aerial and ground surveys conducted since 2003 show deer population in each Monmouth County Park has decreased per square mile, according to the annual report. The aerial report indicates an estimate of 50 percent of the population is not visible during aerial survey.
Livingstone said the parks system is remaining educated about the possibility of deer contraception, which was legalized in New Jersey last year, but according to The Star Ledger, many officials saw the measure as too costly.
The Monmouth County Parks System is working with researches at Rutgers University to learn more about deer contraception, in the form of shots which limit the deer's ability to produce hormones.
"When the time comes, we will know all the latest information," Livingstone said.
While the county continues to explore non-lethal options for population control, including deer contraception, it also continues to see manageable populations in the parks due to regular hunting seasons.
Livingstone said that since hunting was implemented, the Deer Management branch of the parks system as seen white-tailed deer population decrease and level off.
In fact, this year the parks system has banned hunting in Hartshorne Woods Park, which spans Locust and Atlantic Highlands.
"We have seen the numbers go down at Hartshorne Woods, and decided to suspend the hunt this year," Livingstone said.
The Monmouth County Parks System has expanded its hunting areas over the years, only as it has acquired more land.
The Deer Management Program will continue to monitor forestation at Hartshorne, but for now, Livingstone said, the parks system feels the population is under control in that area.
The county follows state hunting laws, however Livingstone said county hunting restrictions are more stringent in some areas.
Monmouth County hunting permits go on sale Sept. 10 at Thompson Park Headquarters in Lincroft, Manasquan Reservoir Visitor Center in Howell, and Turkey Swamp Park in Freehold.
The "Deer Hunting Access Permit" requires:
- valid state hunting license
- hunting safety education card
- proof of age (must be 18 or older)
- $20 non-refundable application fee
Hunters who acquired permits last year must have filed the end-of-season harvest report, of those hunters will not be eligible for a permit this year.
Hunting on Sundays is not permitted on county park land. Hunting is only permitted within the designated hunting areas (see attached map and weapons requirements).