Town council approves deer management program

Westfield+resident+captures+photo+of+a+deer+in+her+backyard.

Photo by Maddie Katz

Westfield resident captures photo of a deer in her backyard.

Greta McLaughlin, R1 Editor-In-Chief

On Dec. 10, the Westfield Town Council voted 6-2 to implement the Union County Deer Management Program in Westfield. The program, which will take place between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14 about two mornings per week, involves archers hunting deer in Brightwood Park and the Conservation Center. These locations were recommended by the county, and participants in the hunt are volunteers who have been trained and examined by the county. Residents living around these areas will be notified, and signs will be posted on days of the hunt. The town anticipates around 15 to 35 deer will be killed between the two plots.

This comes at a time when deer overpopulation is prevalent in Union County, and according to the Westfield’s town website, the deer population doubles every two years. Recently, residents have expressed concerns regarding safety.

Ward 3 Councilman David Contract, a strong proponent of the program, explained that since the beginning of this year, there have been car accidents involving deer every week. “That is a huge problem, and half of those deer, roughly, are killed instantly or quickly, and the other half are not,” said Contract in an interview with Hi’s Eye. “We’ve had instances where wounded deer ended up in people’s yards, and that’s awful.”

The town began exploring a solution last spring after residents voiced concerns.

We first thoroughly vetted and explored the county program because it’s available to us at no cost,” explained Contract. “As stewards of the taxpayer dollar, we’ve got to be smart about what we choose to do, and if there’s a free program that is effective, it’s something that we have to seriously consider. But, we did look at other options.”

The town considered a deer vasectomy program which was implemented in Staten Island but was shown to be ineffective. Another option was female sterilization, but it was considered too costly at $1,200 a deer. Other methods such as reducing speed limits and using deer reflectors lacked evidence to work in the long term.

Some people living near the Conservation Center feared that deer would run into their yards after being shot. Supporters of the plan looked at statistics from the county over the past two years of the program, and there has not been an instance of an injured deer running into a yard since. Contract explained that even if the deer ran 20 to 30 yards after being hit, it still would not go into a yard since the archers will operate 100 yards from any resident’s property.

There was uneasiness regarding the nature of the program itself, and some saw it as inhumane.

Ward 4 Councilman Doug Stokes and Ward 2 Councilwoman JoAnn Neylan voted against the program. “I’d like to take a little bit more time to come up with certainty that this is a solution and not a one-off and make sure we look into a little bit more whether or not we’re putting people in harm’s way,” said Neylan at the Dec. 10 meeting.

Contract said to Hi’s Eye: “Obviously, this is not an easy decision, and I appreciate that the public has been so engaged in this and sharing their opinions one way or another. I do feel like safety trumps some of these other concerns, and we have to do something.”