The White-Tailed Deer Problem in New Jersey
How We Got Here
How Did Deer Overpopulation Become Unsustainable?
New Jersey is the Garden State. Our moderate climate and biological diversity makes New Jersey ideal for agriculture and the perfect host to numerous wildlife species, including the white-tailed deer. For anyone who has lived in New Jersey for a time, deer running across roads or browsing in the backyard are a common sight.
According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, “A healthy deer herd, managed at levels that are compatible with current land use practices and the human population, has great value to the people of the state.”
Unfortunately, the white-tailed deer population in New Jersey has elevated to unhealthy levels. The resulting problem has reached unsustainable proportions.
Why has the deer population progressed to this unsustainable level?
- Deer in New Jersey no longer have any natural predators.
- There is a lack of adequate access to land for hunting.
- Recreational hunting has declined overall.
- Deer breed often and quickly, producing multiple offspring.
- Agriculture and suburban landscaping provide a ready food supply, even in winter.
The white-tailed deer population in New Jersey now dramatically exceeds what wildlife biologists, ecologists, and environmental professionals classify as a sustainable population per square mile.
A sustainable and healthy deer density, according to wildlife biologists, is 5 to 15 individuals per square mile. A recent infrared deer population survey conducted by environmental services firm Steward Green involved eight sites throughout New Jersey. The survey concluded that New Jersey averages 112 deer per square mile. In some counties, the deer population is as high as 270 individuals per square mile.
A recent article on NorthJersey.com about the deer overpopulation problem in New Jersey outlines many of the critical challenges we are facing, as well as proposed solutions to this problem. The concerns were previously highlighted in a New Jersey 101.5 article about proposed legislative measures to combat the issue. And this problem is nothing new — a Washington Post story from 1991 about deer overpopulation in Princeton, New Jersey describes the danger of car collisions as well as public concerns about Lyme disease. A New York Times article from 2008 describes controlled hunting activities that took place in Essex County in an effort to manage out-of-control deer populations.
Princeton has now implemented a lethal management program to address its deer overpopulation issue. A Frequently Asked Questions document issued by Princeton University’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety addresses this approach, and explains why these measures were enacted.
In May 2020, a resident of Manasquan posted an online video showing a herd of 10 deer roaming the local beach. While the video may appear to be picturesque, the truth is that this event clearly demonstrates an overpopulation of wildlife and their unfettered movement into accessible areas, as a result of people staying home during the ongoing pandemic. The critical problem of an out-of-balance deer population in New Jersey will continue to cause financial and health issues to our farmers and residents.
The current situation is not sustainable. New Jersey must identify a viable solution that will enable our out-of-balance deer population to be returned to manageable levels, and mitigate the significant agricultural, ecological, and human health threats posed by this problem.
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Human Health Effects
The New Jersey Farm Bureau, and the agricultural interests we represent, understand that people will have different ideas about the approach to this problem. But ultimately, we must identify immediate and viable solutions to mitigate the negative impact to agriculture, the environment, and human health caused by deer overpopulation.