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Open Space Committee Told Of ‘Hidden Costs’ Of Damage Done By Deer

Joe Paulin, from the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension, talks to the Committee about the township and region’s deer problem.

Damage done by deer is costing farmers in New Jersey millions of dollars in lost crops, the township Open Space Advisory Committee was told on September 20.

And although non-lethal forms of deer management – such as sterilization – have limited effectiveness, hunting programs are the best way to reduce the number of deer in the state, the committee was told.

The information came as part of a presentation by Joe Paulin of the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension, which manages the Hutcheson Memorial Forest Center in Amwell Road.

Paulin said the Coop conducted a survey of 27 farmers in the state – including Franklin Township – to get an idea of what the “hidden costs” of crop damage by deer are.

“We wanted to find out other ways deer was impacting farm families … as well as inform policy discussions relating to deer management.”

What the study found, Paulin said, was that farmers were not only losing money because of the crops that the hungry deer destroy, but also because of measures farmers must take to salvage their growing seasons.

Among those hidden costs: crop abandonment, field abandonment, and replanting, Paulin said.

“Farmers can’t rotate crops the way they want to, this can lead to increased use of pesticides and fertilizers,” he said.

Paulin said the 27 farmers involved in the survey lose about $1.3 million a year due to damage by deer.

“We can tell from this number that the previous studies that only looked at crop damage, those numbers were grossly underestimated,” he said. “This is a very common story that we are hearing from farmers throughout the state.”

“It’s getting to the point where some families that are multi-generational farm families don’t know if they can carry on,” he said.

Committee chairman Bob Puskas said farmers plant decoy crops to lure deer away from their main crops.

“We plant certain fields, we call them sacrifice fields,” he said. “We plant them so the deer will go over and eat them (and leave the other fields alone.) It’s all part of our costs.”

“The deer take 25 percent of every paycheck,” Paulin said. “Previous research done in the late 1990s surveyed over 2,000 farmers from throughout the state. That estimate was $5 million to $10 million” in losses.

Paulin said a manageable deer herd would be about 10 deer per square mile.

“We’re seeing a lot of deer around, anywhere from 40 to 200 deer per square mile,” he said.

The majority of the farmers interviewed for the study were within one mile of a residential development, Paulin said.

He said that the majority of deer population reductions are due to hunting, whichm, he said, is more effective than other methods such as fencing or sterilization.

Fences, he said have to be at least eight feet high and can be very expensive.

And sterilization only works well if the deer are in a confined space that no other deer can enter, he said.

“In New Jersey, it requires permit and would have to be administered by trained professionals,” he said. “The cost is about $1,000 per animal.”

“The science doesn’t support effectiveness in free-ranging populations, for the most part,” he said.

The township’s hunting program has not only helped farmers, Paulin said.

Hunters, he said, have “donated over 2,000 pounds of venison to Franklin Food Bank. That’s enough for over 8,000 meals.”

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