To the Editor:
Hopewell Valley: Home of the Bulldogs … and tons of deer. That’s what the signs entering our town should read. It’s hard to picture our area without also thinking of the massive amounts of deer that trot around the Valley.
Since going to college for the past three months, I think I have seen around five deer, total. My home-away-from-home is Dickinson College which is located in a small town in south-central, PA. The climate and natural conditions are generally the same as Hopewell Valley, which makes sense considering the latitude coordinate is only off by 0.14 degrees. Some might think that I haven’t seen any deer because of the roads on my campus or I haven’t been in the more rural parts of this town, but regardless, there are substantially more deer in Hopewell Valley. Deer overpopulation affects our driving, local businesses, and the ecosystems in our community.
To understand why there are so many deer, we must look back in history. In the last century, the deer population expanded sue to human action. In New Jersey and much of the northeast, wolves and coyotes were frequently hunted, diminishing their populations. With no natural predator, the deer population grew unchecked. The way most New Jerseyans notice this increase is through motor vehicle accidents. Whether or not you’ve personally hit a deer (or been hit) with your car, it is very unlikely anyone living in Hopewell Valley hasn’t seen a deer on the side of the road. Just on my typical 15-minute drive to HVCHS, I must’ve seen at least 2 carcasses, daily. This abundance was recorded by NJ.com in 2016. The study documented the amount of deer that the state collected, which means county and municipal roads were not even included. Mercer County was ranked 5th in the most deer collections of the 21 counties. A few of our neighboring counties, Middlesex, Somerset, and Hunterdon, were also high on the list. Looking at NJ as a whole, Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space (FoHVOS) reported that New Jersey had the largest increase (54%) in deer-vehicle collisions from 2005-2010. There is no denying Hopewell’s deer problem, and the numbers prove it.
Virtually anything that grows is food for deer. Local farmers and the ecosystems in Hopewell Valley take a hit from the deer overpopulation. Herds of deer eat the crops, which hurts the small business farms. Another problem is deer eating the native plants. In Hopewell Valley, the native plants are already being outcompeted by invasive species, like Japanese honeysuckle vine. Native plants can take 100s of years to regrow if they are wiped out so we should be doing everything that we can to help support our local ecosystems. FoHVOS does land assessments to evaluate the composition of native and invasive plants in a specified area. Also, they have a “Do Not Plant” list to help backyard gardeners support native plant species and not continue the spread of invasive plants.
The blame for deer overpopulation can be easily placed on us, the humans. We hunted the native predators and now, we must take that role. There is an effort in place to control the population. Hopewell Township has a Deer Management Advisory Committee and this topic is discussed in our municipal governments.
Hunting is the solution. According to NJ.com, 41,439 deer were collected throughout NJ by hunters in the 2015/2016 hunting season. Advisors on the Deer Management Advisory Committee have proposed changing hunting methods for better regulation of the population. Restrictions should be loosened to maximize the number of deer harvested. The season should be stretched longer, especially the six-day firearm season. Also, more than one antlered deer should be allowed if these changes were made. Improving regulations to hunt more effectively will help decrease the deer population over time.
I can’t imagine anyone who would want to keep this extreme amount of deer around. I am currently experiencing the alternative of the aforementioned problems and the results are attainable for Hopewell Valley. Here in Carlisle, PA, I have never seen a deer dead on the side of the road. The Dickinson College Farm does not suffer from crops damaged by deer. If we make the necessary effort to manage the deer population, we will prevent hundreds of accidents, contribute to the restoration of our suffering ecosystem, and improve the local economy.