Updated: Open Space Committee: Grassland Preserves Should Be Closed To Hikers For Two Months To Allow For Hunting

Pastor Bryan Miller of the Somerset Bible Baptist Church tells the Open Space Advisory Committee of his experiences hunting on public land last season.

Update: The Township Council on July 10 adopted the recommendations made by the Open Space Advisory Committee, the Trail Advisory Committee and the Agricultural Advisory Committee, all of which change the hunting program from what it was this past season.

Changes were made to the 2017-18 hunting season to allow for more non-hunting use of the Negri Nepote and Grigsstown grassland preserves, but that was a failure, Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said.

“It failed for a number of reasons,” he said, one of which was the signs that were places at the sites.

“The signage is almost impossible to come up with verbiage that conveys the message that’s necessary, and it allows for conflicts between shotgun hunters and hikers that I think we really need to avoid,” he said.

“We’re making a decision here that will be controversial,” Mayor Phil Kramer said. “That’s what we get paid for.”

Original Story: The Negri Nepote and Griggstown natural grasslands preserves should once again be closed to all but hunters from early December to mid-February of 2019, the township Open Space Advisory Committee decided at its June 19 meeting.

The ban on hikers and other users of the preserves would be in effect on Mondays through Saturdays during that time. Hunting is banned on all township property on Sundays.

The recommendation is part of several comprising the suggested deer management plan for the next hunting season. The package will be forwarded to the Township Council, which is expected to vote on the township’s deer management plan in July.

The committee’s recommendation reverses the policy that was in effect for what is considered Season Three of the 2017-18 hunting season, when hunters were allowed on the preserves from sunrise to 9 a.m., then from 3 p.m. to sunset.

This year’s hunting seasons, as set by the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife is: Season One (bow hunting): Sept. 8 to Oct. 26; Season Two (bow and firearms): Oct. 27 to Dec. 31; Season Three (firearms): Dec. 3 to Feb. 16, with a six-day firearm period of Dec. 3-8.

The committee also recommended banning all firearms hunting on the two grasslands preserves during Season Two.

Tara Kenyon, the township’s open space consultant, said she’d heard complaints from hunters that people were on the preserves’ trails after they had been closed off for hunting.

One of those hunters, Pastor Bryan Miller of Somerset Bible Baptist Church, told the committee that hikers were in the grasslands last season when it was supposed to be closed for hunting.

“It is very confusing and could be a safety issue, having it open to hikers and then closed and then open again,” Kenyon said. “There’s a lot of interaction between hikers and hunters, so there’s a potential threat there for danger.”

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said that creating easily understood signage for that program was also a challenge.

Kenyon also said that other communities that closed hunting areas to all but hunters had success with culling their deer herd.

“Not only is it a safety issue and not only does it help with the signage, the other issue is that in Mercer and Union counties, they have a pretty active deer management program, and closing for Season Three has been really successful in terms of culling the herd,” she said. “That has been the clincher.”

Kenyon said the township’s Trails Advisory Committee had also signed off on the change.

Kenyon said that Somerset County had given its final approval for the township to allow hunting on the 47-acre South Mettlers property, on Mettlers Lane, adjacent to Colonial Park.

“We’re putting together a list of approved hunters that will hunt that property, so that will help a lot,” she said.

Other recommendations approved by the committee included simplifying the hunting permit process, meeting with Rutgers University officials to discuss the possibility of allowing hunting on the Hutchison Memorial Forest on Amwell Road – which has previously not been allowed – and clarifying signage.

Kenyon also told the committee that a group of Rutgers graduate students would be studying the township’s deer population and, at no charge, supply the township with recommendations for deer management.

“That’s no cost to us, they’re getting credit for it and it should be a real good opportunity for us to get some foundation documents,” she said.


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