by Annabelle Wang ’22
Published Mar. 23rd, 2021
Long eyelashes crown milk chocolate-colored eyes. Ears that look half the length of their faces perk out daintily. As we swoon over these playfully spotted fawns, it may seem impossible to believe that hunting white-tailed deer in Montgomery is crucial.
Yet, as shocking as it may seem, hunting is indeed a crucial form of population management. White-tailed deer populations in New Jersey exploded in the last century and have remained at high numbers for the last decade as suburban lawns filled with yummy plants and residential and commercial development drove away many natural predators.
In 2020, White Buffalo, a wildlife management organization, estimated 120 deer/mi2 in their sample of about one-third of Montgomery. Scientists consider ten deer/mi2 sustainable, meaning the impact of a deer population of that size allows the relative proportion of trees to regenerate fast enough to replace those eaten by deer or damaged by weather and insects.
While they may look harmless, deer can cause irreversible damage to citizens, landscapes and ecosystems. Deer can spread diseases like Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis and the more rare Babesiosis, all of which can cause flu-like symptoms, through the ticks they carry.
They also wreak havoc on reforestation efforts, which is sorely needed to help combat climate change and forest threats from invasive species like the Emerald Ash Borer. Deer eat saplings, and bucks rub their antlers on trees, wearing away the outer bark where the tree’s nutrient-transporting tissues are. Young trees that are not resilient enough to such stress often give out, stunting the next generation of trees.
This is not to mention the number of vehicle accidents involving deer. In the past 15 years, an average of 105 automobiles in Montgomery crashed into deer each year, although this number does not reflect unreported incidents. Such crashes can cause serious and potentially fatal injuries to the people in the cars, as well as costly property damage.
Hunting is currently our best solution to protect our environment and residents. “We have no choice,” said Mary Reece, chair of Montgomery’s Environmental Commission.
Lauren Wasilauski, Montgomery’s open space coordinator, noted that many private property owners are wary of deer hunting because they tend to picture innocent Bambis. This ties into something called the Bambi Effect, which occurs when people object to killing ‘cute’ animals while objecting less to the same treatment of less attractive animals like flies. She stressed that education about the actual consequences of deer overpopulation is vital to gaining more support for wildlife management methods like hunting.
Hunting is not synonymous with bloodthirsty trophy seeking. Many hunters follow subsistence lifestyles that allow them to better appreciate and respect their environment because of their dependence on it. They follow science-informed municipal and state protocols and attend NJDEP-administered annual training to regulate deer populations while keeping the general public safe.
Reece also pointed out that hunting can be a positive social cause. Montgomery Township provides a freezing facility and pays for the butchering of hunted deer. The Township then donates the deer meat to a Union County food bank and Hunters Helping the Hungry. In the past year alone, Montgomery hunters donated 72 deer to Hunters Helping the Hungry.
Home is where the heart is. If white-tailed deer are truly a part of our hearts, then we need to pay attention to our shared home.