There is no shortage of tips for drivers on how to avoid a collision with a deer. Drive slowly. Drive defensively. Make sure your brakes are in good working order.
Here’s a new one: Pay a hunter to put Bambi on the dinner table before it gets hit on the road.
A New Jersey lawmaker wants the state’s ban on commercial deer hunting lifted. Hunters motivated more by profit than by sport would be relied on to reduce deer populations and could sell their keep to butchers, supermarkets and restaurants.
The sale of wild game has been restricted in all 50 states for more than a century, which explains why the venison on the menu at your favorite restaurant is most likely imported from New Zealand (or else the product of a U.S. deer farm).
In New Jersey it is is illegal for hunters to sell deer meat, deer antlers or any part of a deer except deer hides, tails and the lower portion of the legs.
Deer have bounced back after being overhunted early in the state’s history to the point when only a handful of animals were left in New Jersey in the early 1900s, state wildlife officials say. Now with an overabundance, gaming officials have lengthened the hunting season, increased bag limits and provided other incentives for hunters to kill more deer, but there’s still a lot of deer.
Monmouth County Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande said the time has come to take additional steps to reduce the number of deer because of the health and safety risks from deer-vehicle collisions and Lyme disease.
“I have a personal interest in this. I have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old and I live in a town, Colts Neck, where deer are prevalent,” Casagrande said.
Municipal officials in Colts Neck recently enacted a controversial ordinance to allow bow hunting within 150 feet of buildings to cull a rising white-tail deer population.
The April death of a Neptune man, whose vehicle struck a deer, a guardrail and then a tree on the center median of the Garden State Parkway at mile post 112.5, is an example of the worst result of deer-human conflicts.
Casagrande says the animals are also inflicting damage on the ecosytem, browsing on shrubs and saplings and diminishing the number of young trees to fill the canopy of forests, a contention shared by environmentalists.
“Anybody who lives in Monmouth County and is driving around is able to see a deer population that has exploded,” Casagrande said. “I’m concerned about the high number of Lyme cases and I’m also very concerned about the car accidents, half of which occur between October and December.”
There are some alarming numbers:
The National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA) says there are 1.5 million deer-related car accidents across the U.S. annually, causing approximately 175-200 human fatalities every year and 10,000 injuries.
[Too many cars, perhaps?]
Stephen Schapiro, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the department has spent $230,000 per year to remove an average 6,350 deer carcasses from state highways each year over the last three years. In 2013, Monmouth County topped the counties with 853 deer carcasses removed and Ocean County had 215 removals. The data doesn’t include the deer removed by counties and municipalities on roadways under their respective jurisdiction.
Casagrande, a Republican, introduced Assembly bill A3039 in March but it still hasn’t been posted for a hearing in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee after eight months.
The committee chairman, Bob Andrzejczak, a Democrat from Cape May County, didn’t return a call to explain what the holdup is, but conservationists say pursuing commercial hunt legislation could become politically explosive, with pressure from animal rights groups as well as sportsmen who don’t want to compete with commercial hunters.
“The problem with deer is it’s a sacred cow. People wouldn’t be upset if we were talking about gray squirrel because they don’t have the same emotional investment as they have with white-tailed deer,” said David Drake, a University of Wisconsin wildlife ecologist.
Drake introduced a panel of scientists at the Wildlife Society’s annual meeting last year that discussed allowing the limited sale of deer meat as a way to reduce deer population and limit damage.
As is the case in New Jersey, no other states have since overhauled laws on commercial deer hunting, but Drake said, “We’re encouraged because we’re gaining traction and more and more people are talking about this.”
Jeff Tittel, state director of the Sierra Club, said policy makers “should be looking more at non-lethal deer population control methods.”
“There needs to be a holistic approach to managing our lands. If you landscape your area with bayberry and other things deer can’t eat, you have a better chance of deer not coming on your property. Controling food sources is the best way to manage population,” he said.
Tittel said the current commercial game hunting laws “are sort of silly in a state that has so many deer. It makes no sense that we have farms that grow the deer when we have parts of the state overpopulated with deer.”