The white-tail deer population density within Hopewell Valley was 109 deer per square mile in 2021
The Mercer County Park Commission began conducting deer management at Mercer County Park, Mercer Meadows and Baldpate Mountain on Sept. 9 in efforts to reduce the overabundant deer herd in the greater Mercer County region.
The Mercer County Park Commission is responsible for overseeing and managing approximately 7,100 acres of parkland throughout the county, with the dual goals of conserving natural resources and providing a variety of recreational opportunities for Mercer County residents.
Ecological stewardship within the parks has become an increasing priority in the past decade, with partnerships in place to facilitate large-scale habitat restoration projects.
Current county stewardship efforts include invasive species management, citizen science efforts, meadow restorations, reforestations and wildlife management, which all contribute to improving the ecological health within the park system and the county at large.
One of the largest regional threats to biodiversity of flora and fauna in central New Jersey is the overabundance of white-tailed deer. Heightened levels of herbivory caused by deer overpopulation jeopardizes the native plant understory and overall forest health, degrading habitat value for other wildlife.
Regions within Mercer County have some of the highest deer populations in the state. According to 2021 population estimates, the white-tail deer population density within Hopewell Valley was 109 deer per square mile, and 155 deer per square mile post-birthing.
Biologists recommend a density of 20-25 deer per square mile to achieve and maintain a healthy forest, and 10-15 deer per square mile if the forest is already in a degraded condition. In order to address this ecological issue and cooperate with regional efforts, the Park Commission implements its Deer Management Program in several of its parks.
Bow hunting will take place Monday through Saturday until Feb. 17, 2024. The parks will remain open when only bow hunting is being performed.
Firearm hunting will occur at Baldpate Mountain and the area north of Lake Mercer at Mercer County Park beginning Monday, Dec. 4 through Saturday, Dec. 9, and every Wednesday through Saturday thereafter through Feb. 10, 2024. The parks/regions will be closed to the public when firearms are in use. There will be no hunting on Sunday.
All parks have posted signage at parking areas and trail heads regarding hunting schedule and closure dates as a reminder and notice to the public. Where possible, orange chains will be placed across trails and entrances to indicate closures, as well as the use of electronic message boards displaying park closure dates. Park Rangers will patrol the parks during closures to enhance public safety.
The deer management program complies with all hunting regulations set by the state; the Park Commission has additional rules for the program to ensure the safety of the public and maintain the management ethics of the program. For example, hunting is only permitted by those who have applied for and met all the requirements to participate in the program. All hunting must be done from an elevated tree stand; hunters are not permitted to hunt from the ground. The county has instituted a 75-foot safety buffer on either side of all county authorized trails in the parks within which no hunting activity may take place.
When the parks are open to bow hunting only, park users are urged to stay on County authorized trails, wear bright colors and to keep dogs on leash at all times per Park Commission regulations. Park users are also asked to observe posted closure notices and to refrain from entering the park and areas posted during the closures.
For the past five years, the Park Commission has supported efforts to see that deer harvested from the parks are donated to the Hunters Helping the Hungry program. In that time, the deer management program has donated 352 deer, equivalent to 67,784 servings of venison that have been distributed at local Mercer County food shelters.
More information including maps can be found by visiting the Mercer County Park Commission’s Deer Management page — https://www.mercercounty.org/departments/mercer-county-park-commission/naturalist-department/stewardship/deer-management?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery