September 22, 2021

Resolutions Related to Deer Culling Have a History Going Back Decades

By Anne Levin

If you live in New Jersey, you have likely come into unsettling contact with white-tailed deer.  Particularly prevalent this time of year, these animals have flourished in parks, roadways, and backyards since being introduced to New Jersey a century ago.

From damaging native plants and shrubs to causing vehicle accidents that can be fatal to drivers and cause gruesome suffering to the animals themselves, the volume of deer requires constant monitoring to keep the situation from reaching unmanageable levels.

That was the scenario two decades ago, when late Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand took steps to address the problem. Marchand lobbied the state to get legislation put in place for the program that exists today. It authorizes implementation of community-based deer management, using alternative methods to traditional hunting that keep numbers down and spare the animals from lingering deaths in vehicle collisions.

At its most recent meeting on September 13, Princeton Council voted to pass three resolutions related to deer management.  One was an agreement with John Zampini/Suburban Deer Management Association for bow hunting on public lands during the fall and winter seasons. Another was for services by White Buffalo Inc., for specialized deer management services. The third endorsed an application for designation of a special deer management area and community-based deer management plan.

Before voting, Council members were given extensive background by municipal attorney Trishka Cecil. She has been closely involved with the deer management program since she was assigned to work on it as a new attorney with Mason, Griffin & Pierson 21 years ago.

The idea of culling the deer herd was something she initially resisted — until she realized there was a humane reason for the program.

“I was told, ‘This is what the Township wants to do to go forward, so put the documents together.’ My initial reaction was ‘No,’” she said during a telephone conversation this week. “I’m an animal lover. I hate hunting. The word ‘cull’ had such negative connotations. I was pretty horrified. But you’re horrified until you get the facts.”

Cecil set out to do just that. She met with White Buffalo Inc., the professional sharpshooting company that uses a humane approach to deer management, and realized that founder Anthony DeNicola approaches the situation as a scientist and biologist, not as a hunter. She even went out into the field with DeNicola to watch the operation in action.

“I dug into the science with him,” Cecil said. “The methods they used, and his whole philosophy, and why he founded the company, really brought me around to how this is actually more humane. I knew we had to find some kind of balance. He taught himself to be a sharpshooter. He was so committed to doing this the right way. And as an attorney, that really resonated with me.”

The process also involved meetings with the former Township’s first Animal Control Advisory Committee. “These were residents who were so committed to it and so passionate,” Cecil said. “And we had an animal control officer who was so committed and passionate. It all resulted in this program.”

Cecil went through old files to prepare for the Council meeting, and realized that while the program actually began in 2000, Princeton residents had been complaining about the deer since 1982.  Damage to the landscape, ticks carrying Lyme disease, and motor vehicle collisions were just some of the issues.

The first year of the culling program, the deer population was estimated at about 1,300, and White Buffalo removed about 350. “After that year we saw a 50 to 54 percent reduction in vehicle collisions with deer. And that told us we were doing the right thing,” Cecil said.

While the program requires continued monitoring, it has become less problematic in recent years. “Here’s the difference: When I drive at night on Princeton’s roads, I’m not scared the way I am when I drive on the roads out by where I live in Hunterdon County, “ Cecil said. “We are so overrun. There were 10 deer standing in my driveway at 8:30 p.m. when I drove up the other night. We routinely have 30 deer in our back yard. And that’s how it used to be in Princeton. But those issues associated with the deer have been significantly lessened.”