There is an over population of White-tailed Deer occupying the Rutgers Ecological Preserve. The deer are causing increasing damage to the plant life and causing a danger to vehicles traveling on the perimeter roads. Over 85 deer-induced vehicle collisions in the vicinity of the EcoPreserve have been reported to police between 2010-2012. Recent vegetation inventories conducted by Rutgers University faculty and students document a change in the natural ecological characteristics of the EcoPreserve when compared to studies conducted in the 1970’s. Of major concern has been the loss of native understory shrubs, tree seedlings/saplings and wildflowers. Loss of this native vegetation represents a decline in forest ecosystem health, a loss of the overall biological diversity and enhanced vulnerability of the forest to invasion by exotic plant species. Gaps created by fallen trees would normally be quickly filled by regrowing saplings. Without advance regeneration of native tree seedlings and saplings, the forest is not able to respond to natural disturbance events such as the recent SuperStorm Sandy. Similar loss of native understory shrubs, tree seedlings/saplings and wildflowers due to deer browsing has been documented throughout the northeastern and midwestern United States.
Many preserves and open space conservation lands in central New Jersey employ managed hunting programs to reduce deer populations to levels that minimize the negative ecological and social consequences of overabundant deer. A managed hunting program is planned for the Rutgers EcoPreserve from December 22, 2012 through January 18, 2013. The deer damage management program is coordinated by natural resource and wildlife conservation professionals on the Rutgers University staff. The plan has been reviewed and approved by the members of a Deer Management Advisory Committee which includes participation from RU Police Department, Office of Risk Management, and Facilities, as well as by the RU EcoPreserve Advisory Committee and the Dean of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. Conservation officers of the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife will also monitor the conduct of the hunt to ensure that all relevant NJ hunting regulations are followed.
This deer population reduction program will rely on ‘in-season’ bow hunting only. The EcoPreserve will not be open to general recreational hunting but rather access will be limited to a smaller number of permitted hunters. Before being permitted to hunt, hunters must pass a background check with no prior NJ fish and game violations, pass a bow-hunting proficiency test, and post the required liability insurance. Each hunter will be required to shoot their bow to demonstrate their proficiency and safety to a Rutgers University designated official.